Teachers working in a new kind of primary school have been instructed not to speak to journalists about the schools they work in and how they operate.

A protocol drawn up for the country's 11 Community National Schools, and distributed to teachers advises that "any employee or representative of a school, other than the principal, who is approached by a media journalist, should not engage with them".

The document goes on to say that they should "refer the matter immediately to their principal".

The document was designed by Education and Training Boards Ireland, the umbrella body for the country's ETB's who are patrons of the CNS schools. 

The document states that the protocol applies to all media approaches concerning "the CNS model, the operation of CNS schools, or any sensitive issue".It stipulates that it does not apply to "local media concerning local school events", such as sports days or fundraising events. 

The document goes on to instruct the school principal, in the event of any such approach, to "make it clear to the journalist" that there are protocols in place and that they are "not able to comment at this point".

The protocol states that the media request should be sent on to a designated person within the Education and Training Board. 

The Community National Schools have been the subject of controversy and media comment over their approach to the teaching of religion to pupils.

The schools were established as multi-denominational schools, with the first opening ten years ago.  However, a commitment given by the Department of Education to the Catholic bishops meant they were obliged to offer sacramental preparation and faith formation to Catholic children during the school day.

This entailed the separation of Catholic and non-Catholic children during class time. This separation has now been done away with in most of the 11 schools.

The place of religion in the CNS schools has been covered extensively by RTÉ News. 

The media protocol singles out the schools' religious education programme, ‘Goodness Me! Goodness You!’, for particular mention.

It states that the Department of Education has a "strategic role" in the sector's development "and in matters related to ‘Goodness Me! Goodness You!’ in particular". "Therefore" it continues "ETBI may liaise with the DES in relation to media queries on these issues". 

Last week, RTÉ News reported on an unusually strict dress code for teachers at some of the CNS schools.

It is unusual for a group of schools to have such a stringent media restriction put in place by their patron body. The restrictions apply only to the Education and Training Boards 11 primary Community National Schools.

It contrasts with the approach adopted by other patron bodies. Caoimhín Ó hEaghra of An Foras Pátrunachta, which runs 64 primary Gaelscoileanna, told RTÉ News that An Foras Pátrunachta actively encourages its teachers and principals to speak to the media, "so that the benefits of their model of education can be communicated".

Responding to a query from RTÉ News about the protocol, ETBI said that that last year many CNS principals were approached repeatedly by media looking for comments on national policies in relation to Community National Schools and in particular in relation to Goodness Me! Goodness You!

In a statement to RTÉ News it said that "in order to support principals and to ensure consistency across the sector, ETBI developed protocols on handling media queries concerning the CNS model, the operation of CNS schools, or any sensitive issue". 

ETBI says the protocols were welcomed by school principals.