School uniform policy to remain unchanged
The Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe said schools should continue to draw up their own school uniform policy.
New recommendations published by the Department for Education today in conjunction with the Minister for Integration Policy Conor Lenihan say the current system whereby schools decide on their own uniform policy is “reasonable, works and should be maintained.”
The recommendations say no uniform policy should exclude students of a particular religious background from seeking enrolment or continuing their enrolment in a school.
The wearing of clothing in the classroom, however, which obscures a facial view is not recommended. Such clothing “hinders proper communication and creates an artificial barrier between pupil and teacher” according to the Department.
The recommendations urge schools to consult widely among their communities when drawing up a uniform policy and to take on board the obligations placed on them by the Equal Status Acts.
The recommendations were drawn up in consultation with schools, management bodies, parents' associations and other key stakeholders.
Publishing the recommendations Mr O’Keeffe said while 92 per cent of schools in the country are under the patronage of one religion, this had not operated to exclude pupils of different religions from these schools or from schools operating under other patronage arrangements.
“It seems clear that, where schools have permitted the wearing of the hijab in a colour similar to the school uniform, no problems have been encountered,” he said.
The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) welcomed the recommendations this afternoon. TUI General Secretary Peter MacMenamin said they were broadly consistent with suggestions the union put to Mr Lenihan earlier this year.
"We believe these pragmatic recommendations fully respect the various religious backgrounds of students in our schools while taking account of the legal position,” he said.
However the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) criticised the recommendations saying Ministers O’Keeffe and Lenihan were avoiding their responsibilities by leaving the decision-making on school uniforms to school principals.
ICCL Director Mark Kelly said it was the responsibility of the State to ensure that decisions “on such a sensitive issue are taken on a firm lawful basis and in a consistent way."
“This would appear to be a policy not to have a policy. Thanks to the good sense of school principals, reason has prevailed and no child has been excluded from school on the basis of their religious dress,” he said.
"In the absence of a nationally-agreed and enforceable policy, there remains a danger that individual principals could interpret this to permit them to exclude a child for wearing religious dress, such as the hijab.”
“The Ministers should live up to their responsibility to close this loophole" he added.