Wednesday 24 April 2024

Young teachers in Catholic schools 'fearful' of admitting they don't believe in God

A constant struggle: Catholics still control Irish schools

Many young teachers in Irish Catholic primary schools do not believe in God – but are afraid to ‘put their heads above the parapet’ and admit it, the Humanist Association of Ireland has claimed.

A study released yesterday for the Global Researchers Advancing Catholic Education project found that teachers in Ireland increasingly do not believe in God. 

Some 4,000 teachers were interviewed and at Catholic primary schools a majority under 30 said they “do not believe in a personal God”. 

Around 90% of primary schools in the State retain a Catholic ethos but the report concluded many are not delivering a high standard of religious education to pupils. 

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, Humanist Association of Ireland CEO Jillian Brennan said the figures underline the need for a more diverse education system.

“We’re aware of plenty of teachers who are disadvantaged and discriminated against because Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act actually allows positive discrimination on the basis of religion,” she said. 

“What that means in reality for teachers in schools [where] it doesn’t align with their own personal values and ethos are forced to teach religion in the school system and many of them are fearful of putting their heads above the parapet, for fear of being disadvantaged in terms of future promotional prospects.”

The Government has set a target of at least 400 multi-denominational primary schools by the next decade - a target Ms Brennan believes will be difficult to achieve. 

“Right now, we have only in and about 170 and the pace of divestment is exceptionally slow,” she said. 

“Even if they did achieve that goal - which is extremely unlikely - it would still be a drop in the ocean; it would only put the number of multi-denominational schools at about 13%. 

“If you take it back to a more basic principle, is this really what we want for Irish society going forward? That we’re going to segregate our children on the basis of religion?”

President of Catholic Secondary School’s Parents’ Association Alan Whelan described himself as “shocked” by the report but said there is also “nothing new” in it. 

Previously, Mr Whelan worked as a headteacher in Catholic schools in England and hopes Ireland does not emulate the policies he found over there. 

“I knew and I was outraged by the fact that religious education and Catholicism is not and was not then being taken seriously by the authorities,” he said. 

“If I had had a report like this land on my desk about the ethos of the vast Catholic school for which I was responsible for, I would have resigned immediately.” 

Mr Whelan said there is “nobody forcing” people to teach in a Catholic school and it is important young people receive a high standard of faith-based education

“How can they be expected to prepare young people for the sacraments if they do not believe in God?” he said. 

According to the 2022 census, 69% of people in Ireland recorded their religion as Catholic - down from 79% in 2016.