Catholic schools already facilitating religious education opt-out, says group chairman
Schools had proven adept at dealing with religious difference, says priest
“The department launched a consultation on inclusivity in schools last October, and we submitted responses,” said Fr Michael Drumm. “We have not seen that report and are awaiting its results – the ball is in the department’s court.”
Catholic schools are the most inclusive in society and are already facilitating parents who want to opt their children out of religious education, according to Fr Michael Drumm, chairman of the Catholic Schools Partnership.
Speaking at the annual congress of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said that Catholic primary schools should consider timetabling religion at the start or end of the school day to allow parents opt their children out of religion class. Mr Quinn acknowledged this might not be practical in smaller schools.
Fr Drumm said schools had proven adept at dealing with religious difference. “There is the odd case where a parent choosing to take their child out of religious education is not handled as well as it should be,” he acknowledged.
“This is primarily a resource issue and appears to be more common in smaller schools. Each school is different and timetabling needs to be dealt with at a local level, while family life, school transport and child safety need to be considered before children can be removed from an earlier or later religion class.”
Fr Drumm disputed Mr Quinn’s comments that the church had failed to provide the Department of Education and Skills (DES) with concrete examples of how its schools can be genuinely inclusive to people of all faiths and none.
“The DES launched a consultation on inclusivity in schools last October, and we submitted responses,” said Fr Drumm. “We have not seen that report and are awaiting its results – the ball is in the department’s court.” He questioned why Mr Quinn had raised the issue now and said religious instruction was not a concern for a large majority of parents and teachers.
“The evidence we hear on the ground is when the child-centred nature of the religious education programme is explained to parents from other traditions, the vast majority, including Muslims, are happy for their children to stay in,” he added.
Paul Rowe, chief executive of Educate Together, said many parents were concerned that removing their children from religion instruction could be disruptive and, for that reason, they reluctantly left them in class.
Efforts to mitigate
“While teachers in denominational schools do make great efforts to mitigate the situation, parents are telling us, in increasing numbers, that if they take their child out of religious instruction, the child must leave the class and sit in the principal’s office or unsupervised in the corridor, or else sit at the back of the class and hear and be present at the content which, technically, the law says they should be absent from.
“This situation is quite unsatisfactory and creates an atmosphere where children feel different, isolated and outsiders,” he added.
Mr Rowe said that, while there had been some progress in this area, it was unacceptable that increasing numbers of Irish families were forced to send their children to Catholic schools against their conscience and their legal rights.
Religious instruction is not a big issue for a particularly large number of parents, according to Áine Lynch, chief executive of the National Parents Council (Primary).
“Where it is an issue, however, it is hugely significant and important to those parents, and if the education system is disrespectful to the rights of just one family, that is one family too many,” she said.