Students opting out of religion should not feel excluded, report advises

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn

Students should be allowed to opt out of religion classes without feeling excluded, according to the findings of a new report on Irish school patronage drawn up by the Department of Education.

The report, entitled Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector: Progress to Date and Future Directions, has also suggested that rather than banning crucifixes from classrooms, symbols from other religions could be displayed as well.

Over 400 submissions were made to the Department of Education's progress report - which notes that divesting schools from Catholic patronage has not been as "rapid" as originally envisaged.

The document is a follow-up to the Report of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, which examined how to ensure and promote greater diversity and inclusion in primary schools.

The Forum suggests that schools give clearer policies allowing children of no-faith background to choose not to take part in religion classes without feeling excluded.

Under the Constitution, all parents have the right to withdraw their child from religious instruction in schools. Schools are obliged to respect this right, but according to the document, this is currently happening in a variety of ways, for example pupils may remain in class doing other work, they may leave the classroom but remain in the school under supervision or move to another class where they can participate in a different lesson.

It says it's opposed to a ban on crucifixes in classrooms, but suggests that artefacts from world religions could be placed alongside them to celebrate diversity.

The Department advises that the report is not designed to be prescriptive but rather to inform schools of emerging best practices on boosting inclusivity.

“It is clear that there is no one size fits all approach to ensuring all schools are inclusive and welcoming," Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said.

"Our schools have a proud tradition of serving their communities and have made an enormous contribution to our society.

"Denominational patrons have been an important part of this and will continue to play a strong role in our education system.

"However, our schools can be busy places. There is a risk that we can overlook some fundamental rights to which pupils and their parents are entitled."

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