05 October, 2018 - Department issues a new circular that clarifies opt out requirement for religious instruction

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton T.D., today (Friday the 5th of October) announced that his Department has clarified the requirements set out in a circular 13/2018, which set out an approach to the arrangements that are made for religious instruction and worship in Education and Training Board (ETB) and Post Primary Community schools. 

ETB and Post Primary Community 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 Department is today issuing a further circular to schools clarifying the requirements set out previously. The first key clarification is that where a school intends to provide religious instruction/faith formation, parents must give consent before admission to the class. This means that opt out does not arise because the parent has requested a place in the religious instruction class. The other significant clarification is that classes following the NCCA Religious Education syllabuses cannot have any element of religious instruction or worship, which also means that opt out does not arise. 

Religious Education is an examinable subject just like History or Geography for example. It aims to develop the students’ ability to examine questions of meaning, purpose and relationships, to help students understand, respect and appreciate people’s expression of their beliefs, and to facilitate dialogue and reflection on the diversity of beliefs and values that inform responsible decision-making and ways of living. Crucially, it is not delivered from any one religious perspective. 

Welcoming the clarification, Minister Bruton said, “This further circular will bring clarification to schools on this new approach. It is important that in our state run ETB and Community Post Primary schools operate as multi-denominational schools and that the NCCA Religious Education curriculum, is not taught with any element of religious instruction or worship and that where religious instruction is provided attendance is confined to those who request to attend.” 

Notes to Editor 

Link to Department’s circular 0062/2018 - Clarification in respect of Section 5 of Circular 0013/2018 in relation to the NCCA Religious Education syllabus and religious instruction