IHRC Discussion Paper Part 2 – Education Act 1998

This is an extract from a discussion paper written by the Irish Human Rights Commission about religious education and human rights. Atheist Ireland is preparing a response to this discussion paper, and we welcome your feedback on it.

Education Act 1998

5. This Act applies equally to primary and post primary education. The long title to the Act states that it is for the purpose of the provision of education for everyone in the State. It goes on to explain that the Act has the aim of ensuring that:

“…. the education system is accountable to students, their parents, and the State for the education provided, respects the diversity of values, beliefs, languages and traditions in Irish society and is conducted in a spirit of partnership between schools, patrons, students, parents, teachers and other school staff, the community served by the school and the State…”

6. The functions of the Minister for Education and Skills set out in the Act include the following matters:

  1. to ensure that each person has support services and a level of education suitable to their needs;
  2. setting education policy and,
  3. providing funding, and monitoring the quality and effectiveness of the education system.

7. In carrying out those functions, however, the Minister is required to have regard to:

“…the practices and traditions relating to the organisation of schools or groups of schools existing at the commencement of this Part and the right of schools to manage their own affairs in accordance with this Act and any charters, deeds, articles of management or other such instruments relating to their establishment or operation.”

8. In relation to the functions of schools, section 9(d) of the Act states that schools shall:

“promote the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of students and provide health education for them, in consultation with their parents, having regard to the characteristic spirit of the school.”

9. In this regard the Minister has a largely supervisory role in relation to schools, and takes no direct role in relation to how each school is managed and in particular it is left to each school which particular ethos or character it wishes to adopt, and how this is reflected in the way the school is run.

10. The Board of Management of each school is accountable to the school patron to uphold the characteristic spirit of the school as determined by, inter alia, the moral, religious and spiritual values which inform the character and objectives of the school.

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