Why schools must publish details of arrangements for not attending religion class
One of the issues that Atheist Ireland raised in our recent meeting with the Catholic Education Partnership was that schools are refusing to comply with the legal requirement to include in their admission policies arrangements for children who exercise their constitutional right to not attend religious instruction classes. Atheist Ireland has published two surveys of 100 school admission policies that show that schools are defying this law.
Typically, denominational schools just put in their policy that parents should meet with the principal to discuss the arrangements. But this defeats the purpose of Section 62.7(n) of the Admission to Schools Act 2018, which is to ensure transparency at the outset so that parents can know before they apply for a school place what these arrangements are.
The Requirements of Section 62.7(n) of the Act
“62.7 An Admission Policy shall… (n) provide details of the school’s arrangements in respect of any student, where the parent of that student, or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student, has requested that the student attend the school without attending religious instruction at the school (which arrangements shall not result in a reduction in the school day in respect of the student concerned)”
Here are some quotes about it from Minister for Education Richard Bruton during the Oireachtas debate:
“The Bill also requires schools to publish an Admission Policy which will include details of the school’s arrangements for students who do not want to attend religious instruction. This is an important measure which will help ensure transparency from the outset as to how a school will uphold the rights of parents in this regard.” See Oireachtas debate
Section 62 “sets some mandatory requirements for a school’s Admission Policy, which include: setting out the characteristic spirit of the school; including an admission statement; providing details of the school’s arrangements for students who do not wish to attend religious instruction” See Oireachtas debate
“What we are really discussing is how to address the absolute constitutional right of a child to opt out of the religious activities within the school, if he or she chooses.” See Oireachtas debate
“We are strengthening the provision to meet the constitutional right of every child not to have to attend religious instruction. This will be enforced by requiring it to be explicitly stated in the admissions policy of religious schools as to how they propose to honour that. We are introducing a charter for parents and students to ensure that they will have more say over time in all of the dimensions of school policy. In the case of multi-denominational ETB schools at second level, we will ensure that religion is treated as an option and not as a compulsory subject. We are making several changes which are going to give rise to a much improved environment.” See Oireachtas debate
“There is the matter of issuing directions and we have made a significant change in this Bill. Before a child enrols in a school, the school would have to set out the policy it provides with respect to attending religious instruction. This is an area where there has been a good deal of evolution and we must see more.” See Oireachtas debate
“In this Bill I am also requiring schools to set out in their admissions policies how they will accommodate children who are exercising a constitutional right not to attend religious instruction. I have also indicated to schools operating under the multi-denominational education and training board, ETB, banner at second level that they have an obligation to talk to the parents of pupils about what the parents want and to provide a real curricular option for children at second level in those schools as an alternative to religion.” See Oireachtas debate