LESS THAN HALF of primary school teachers say they teach religion to their students “willingly”, a 12 per cent decrease in a decade.
An INTO survey of 363 teachers was conducted late last year to gather information about religion teaching in schools.
About 10 per cent of teachers said they would prefer to teach a broad religious education programme rather than religious instruction in a particular faith. That figure has doubled in ten years.
However, there was also an increase in those not opposed to teaching religion, up eight per cent to 20 per cent.
The biggest change since similar research was carried out in 2002 was in attitudes towards religious sacraments, including First Holy Communion and Confirmation.
More than 70 per cent of respondents say that the preparation for such events takes more time than that officially available for religion. In 2002, less than 20 per cent said the same thing.
Teachers responses about how much non-religion time was used for sacramental preparation varied. Some reported up to nine hours of time inside school per week was used for preparation. There were also reports of hours being given outside of school.
The vast majority of schools now have pupils attending who are not of the faith of the school. The provision of alternative education for these student varies. In some schools, children not of the school faith participate in the full religious programme and sacraments while others participate in the full religious programme but do not take part in sacramental preparation.
In other classes children are provided with other class work or they follow their own religious programme during the teaching of the religious programme of the school. Some remain in class or have the option of being withdrawn. However, many schools do not have the facilities to cater for this.
Less than 50 per cent of respondents to the survey agreed that pupils should be prepared for sacraments in primary school – down about 20 per cent since 2002. About 40 per cent disagreed with the practice.
Clergy and church representatives continue to visit schools on occasion with reported appearances increasing to 16.8 per cent.
Finally, teachers were asked their views on religious practice among families. About 85 per cent of the respondents felt it has either declined or significantly declined. Yet over half of teachers believe that the family should be most responsible for sacramental preparation.
The INTO said the sample of respondents reflected the overall teaching population in terms of gender, age, location and ethos of school. Nine in ten were in a denominational school.