Ireland has no non-denominational schools. Even the nine schools directly run by the state are religious

No non-denominational schools in Irish education system

The Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan is the patron of nine state run religious schools.

These nine schools are the old Model schools and they are not non-denominational despite being under the patronage of the Minister.

The Report from the Forum on Patronage & Pluralism recognised that there are no non-denominational schools in Ireland. The Report stated that:-

“Non-denominational Patronage:

Schools under the patronage of a secular body and which has an explicitly secular ethos.

This does not preclude the provision of a programme on education about religion. As yet, there are no non-denominational national schools in Ireland.”

Not only do schools have to be under a secular body to be recognised as non-denominational but they also must have an explicitly secular ethos. There are currently no recognised schools in Ireland that have an explicitly secular ethos or claim to have one.

Despite the Report from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism the Minister was unable to answer a recent Dail question on whether there was any non-denominational schools in Dublin North East.

The Irish Human Rights Commission in their Report, Religion & Education: A Human Rights Perspective Recommended that:-

“Terms such as “denominational”, “multi denominational”, “inter denominational”, “non denominational” or “other” school should be clearly defined in primary legislation, Ministerial regulations or be determined by reference to the recognition of such schools under the Education Act.”

One of the Model schools where the Minister is patron is in the grounds of the Dept of Education. It is clearly not a non-denominational secular school despite the fact that it is not managed by a religious body.

Scoil Chaoimhín is a primary Gaelscoil, which provides education to children through the medium of Irish in a safe and friendly environment.  Scoil Chaoimhín was one of the first Gaelscoileanna of the State. The school has a Catholic ethos and children are prepared for First Holy Communion and Confirmation. It is located on the grounds of the Department of Education and Science, in the heart of Dublin city centre.”

Another one is Athy Model School.

“Athy Model School is a primary school under the patronage of the Department of Education, with a Church of Ireland ethos. We endeavour to enable each child to acquire a set of moral values based on the ethos of the school.

We encourage parents and children to involve themselves in the activities of both the Church of Ireland community and the wider community. However, we have due recognition of all other beliefs and cultures and we respect cultural and religious diversity.”

Their enrolment policy states that:-

“This enrolment policy is set out in accordance with provisions of the Education Act (1998), the Equal Status Act (2000) and under the guidance of the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough.

Priority for places is therefore given in the following order:

a) Church of Ireland parishioners of Athy Union of Parishes.

b) Church of Ireland parishioners of adjoining parishes customarily served by the school, where such parishes have no Church of Ireland school of their own.

c) Children, one of whose parents is a member of the Church of Ireland.

d) Children who are members of Protestant Reformed or Orthodox Churches and are living    within the parishes listed at (a) and (b) above.

e) Children of parents living within the areas specified in sections (a) and (b) above and who wish their children to be educated within the ethos of the Church of Ireland. “

Schools in Ireland under the direct patronage of the Minister for Education & Skills, can and do discriminate on religious grounds. None of these schools could possibly be described as non-denominational.  As recognised schools they all comply with the Primary School Curriculum and Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools which obliges schools to integrate religious instruction into the state curriculum.

The Report from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism recommended as a first step that Rule 68 should be deleted but to date the government has refused to do so. All recognised schools are obliged to follow Rule 68 and no patron body is pushing for its removal. The Catholic Church believes that it only needs amending and that could be the reason why it has not been removed.

The Forum on Patronage & Pluralism stated that:-

The Advisory Group recommends that, as a first step and in line with the general view expressed at the Forum, Rule 68 should be deleted as soon as possible.”(page 90)

In their Report Religion & Education; A Human Rights perspective, the Irish Human Rights Commission also Recommended a review of the Rules for National Schools.

“The Minister for Education & Skills should codify and review the Rules for National Schools, to ensure that the human rights standards set out in this paper are upheld. This can further be reviewed in the future in the context of increased diversity in school provision.” (page 104)

Last July the UN Human Rights Committee referred to the minuscule amount of non-denominational schools in Ireland. We believe that they were referring to these Model schools which are under the patronage of the Minister. The UN Human Rights Committee obviously believe that a state school must be a non-denominational school, given the duty of neutrality of the state in relation to religion and the obligations of the state under the Covenant.

Last July the UN Human Rights Committee asked the state the following questions:-

“The number of nondenominational schools in Ireland is still minuscule, and it is our understanding that most of the new schools that have been opened have been multi-denominational and not non-denominational.

It is also our understanding that there are no current plans to create non-denominational schools by way of transfer of control in those areas where it has been deemed, following the recommendations of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary sector, that there is no sufficient demand for such education.

Could you please explain to the Committee how the notion of insufficient demand would not justify the establishment of non-denominational primary schools?

And what would be the fate of parents and children in those areas, in the no-demand areas, what would be their fate in terms of access to non-denominational education?

This also goes to non-surveyed parents living in rural areas where there is also a likelihood of limited numbers of parents and children who would demand, in accordance with these standards, non-denominational education.

Is it true that even under the new Draft general Scheme Bill, children of non-Christian families or atheist families may be discriminated against in admission to denominational schools if they do not fit with its ethos, provided a preference to the school’s denomination children is stated explicitly in the admissions policy of that school?

And going forward, how is the State Party planning to deal with the possibility and the demand for non-denominational education in the future?

Is it considering a move away from the integrated curriculum provided by Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools?

Is it considering a significant rise in the number of schools transferred to public hands?”

Like the Forum on Patronage & Pluralism, the UN believes that  non-denominational schools should have an explicitly secular ethos, where access to a neutral education is legally guaranteed. Given the Concluding Observations of the UN Human Rights Committee,  the Recommendation from the Irish Human Rights Committee and the Recommendation from the Forum on Rule 68, it is essential that terms such as “denominational”, “multi denominational”, “inter denominational”, “non denominational” or “other” school are defined in primary legislation.

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