Northern Ireland

Schools should `adapt' to meet needs of increasingly diverse classes

Four Christian churches draw up the religion syllabus
Four Christian churches draw up the religion syllabus

SCHOOLS need to adapt to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population, it has been urged.

The Integrated Education Fund (IEF) was responding to a paper that questioned the relationship between schools and churches.

The Transforming Education project at Ulster University examined statutory requirements for religious education and collective worship.

It noted that the demographic profile of Northern Ireland was changing but educational provision was slow to respond.

Four denominations - Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Ireland - draw up the religion syllabus.

However, almost a quarter (23 per cent) of the north's population is not associated with these faiths.

While multi-faith approaches have been adopted in Britain and the Republic, the pre-eminence of Christian teaching in the north has been retained "at a level where it may be reasonable to ask whether the NI RE syllabus is about education or Bible instruction", the report found.

It also reported that in spite of having been largely established in the absence of official church representation, integrated schools were "essentially Christian in character".

The IEF said the latest paper would spark engagement and discussion about the issue.

"The paper highlights the need to develop an education system which meets the needs of an increasingly diverse population, and the needs of young people growing up in a globalised workplace and society," said IEF head of communications San Fitzsimmons.

"The research paper points out the growing numbers of people who no longer identify with traditional religious labels but who would present themselves as being of `other religion or none'.

"It raises important questions as to whether we have the right system for our current NI community, and as to how we best support staff throughout the system to nurture identity and celebrate diversity in the classroom."