The Department of Education went ahead with controversial plans to separate young children according to their religion in its new multi-faith schools.

This was despite a warning from its own curriculum development agency that this might not be in the children's own best interests.

The details are contained in documents released to RTE News under Freedom of Information.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment warned that separating children in infant classes based on religion ran counter to research on how children settled and built a foundation for success at school.

In 2008, the Department of Education asked the NCCA to develop a religious education curriculum for children attending the new Community National Schools.

It stipulated that the programme had to provide for religious formation, such as preparation for Communion for Catholic children, during the school day.

It said that children would have to be separated to accommodate this.

In a confidential document prepared for the department, the NCCA warned that the idea of dividing very young children along religious lines ran counter to research on how children settle at school, how they relate to their teachers, and how they build a foundation for success as a student.

It advised that any such division be kept to a minimum and it warned that the task was complex and challenging.

In response the department reiterated that the separation of children had to be provided for.

It told the NCCA that parts of its document had the potential “to unsettle some of the key players”. Three weeks later, the NCCA was dropped from the project.

In a letter to the Department, the then CEO of County Dublin VEC, Pat O'Connor, said the department had been prescriptive from the start on the provision of religious education and faith formation as part of the schools' curriculum.

The department went on to commission the Catholic Marino Institute of Education to design the new curriculum, at an estimated initial cost of €127,000.

That programme is now being piloted in five CNS schools in Dublin and surrounding counties.

State gave commitments to Catholic Church on education

Parents withdraw children from religious classes

Parents at one of the State's new Community National Schools have withdrawn their children from religious classes because they are unhappy with how they are being taught.

According to the report of a meeting held to try and resolve the issue, Muslim parents at Scoil Choilm in Dublin 15 want the religion programme "to focus on general moral values and avoid referring to any religious themes or characters".

They also do not want the programme to include group prayers. The row has been going on for several weeks.

Talks are currently under way between County Dublin VEC, which is patron designate for the school, and Muslim representatives.

A VEC official told RTE they felt the issue was close to resolution.

Parents have also demanded full access to the programme curriculum and the right of their religious representatives to approve any future reviews or amendments.

The Community National Schools divide children into separate groups for religion classes for up to four weeks every year just prior to Easter.

This division is currently in operation at the schools.

However, the Muslim 'stream' has been suspended at the request of parents pending a resolution.

The school is attended by children from a wide variety of religions. A large proportion of the children would be Muslim.

The Community National Schools are currently operating in a legal limbo pending legislation to establish them under the patronage of the VECs.

Currently the Minister for Education is patron. This means that, unlike any other school in the country, the schools do not have a Board of Management. Parents at all other schools are entitled to two representatives on their school Board of Management and the BOM's decide policy for the school.

However the Community National Schools' website under a heading titled "Open and Accountable" states that "a Board of Management in a Community National School is established and has responsibilities based on the same obligations to those prescribed for other Irish Primary schools.”