19 February, 2018 - Minister Bruton publishes Circular setting out new arrangements for children who do not want to participate in Religious Instruction or Worship at school

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton T.D., today announced that his Department has published a circular setting out a new approach to the arrangements that are made for religious instruction and worship in Education and Training Board (ETB) and Community Post Primary schools.

ETB and Community Post Primary schools are multi-denominational schools that provide for their local communities regardless of their composition. It may have been reasonable when these schools were originally established for a school to assume that its pupil population was predominately Catholic and to arrange religious instruction accordingly. However, this is no longer an appropriate approach. In a changing context the constitutional right not to attend religious instruction must be given effect through changed practices.

The key change in the circular published today is that those who do not want instruction in line with the requirements of any particular religion should be timetabled for alternative tuition throughout the school year rather than supervised study or other activities.

Announcing the change, Minister Bruton stated ‘the new arrangements will ensure that children who do not want to participate in religious instruction will no longer be sitting at the back of the class or confined to the library’.

Parents will no longer have to request a withdrawal from religious instruction. The wishes of parents will have to be established as part of the process for planning and organising of subject selection.

The new arrangements, which will take effect immediately, will require schools to provide alternative timetabled tuition for those who do not want instruction in any religion. Parents will also have to be consulted in relation to the school’s arrangements for worship and religious events, whether they wish their children to participate or not. There may be occasions or events where parents may wish to participate and schools will need to plan accordingly.

These new arrangements are an important step for these schools, as multidenominational schools serving the children of their communities regardless of faith or none. This circular will complement the work of ETBI who are engaged in reviewing current arrangements in ETB schools to ensure that they reflect their multidenominational nature in a modern setting.

Minister Bruton stated “It is important that ETB and Community Post Primary schools as multi-denominational schools, fully implement this circular as it presents an important opportunity to meet the expectations of parents and students in a changing society. This can only be achieved by consulting with parents, and including their wishes as part of the normal planning process of any school’.

ENDS

Notes for Editors

  • The circular is published in the context of Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution of Ireland and Section 30 of the Education Act 1998 which provides for Parents to have their children opt out of religious instruction and worship. Where the student is over the age of eighteen, the views of the student must be sought.
  • The specific arrangements in this circular apply to ETB and Community Post Primary schools. They are multidenominational schools whose purpose is to serve their communities however composed.
  • The circular does not alter the existing multi-denominational basis by which religious instruction is provided or amend any of the existing deeds, or legal instruments of schools.
  • The new arrangements will require schools to consult with Parents as part of the process for making subject choices in regards to religious instruction and must also seek the views of Parents in respect of religious worship and other services. Parents may elect to have their children participate in some and not others, for example in the case of school bereavements etc.
  • This circular takes effect from date of publication.
  • For practical implementation reasons, regard must be had for current curricular timetabling arrangements in place for Junior and Leaving certificate classes
  • Where a Parent has expressed an opt-out view, it will endure for the remainder of student’s time spent in school unless a Parent expresses a different view at a later stage.  
  • It may have been reasonable when the schools were established for a school to assume that its student population was predominately Catholic and to make arrangements on that basis. Historically some schools also provided for the needs for pupils from the local Protestant communities. In the future ETB and Community post primary schools may also have to provide for the needs of other minority religions.