Schools ignore legal duty to publish arrangements for children who do not attend religious instruction
In the last few weeks parents of children who are starting school this September are attending meetings in schools where information about the school and the procedures is conveyed.
Unfortunately no information is given on the right to not attend religious instruction at these meetings or in the Admission policies of the schools.
This is contrary to Section 62.7(n) Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018, under which School Admission policies are supposed to inform parents of the arrangements for children who exercise their right to not attend religious instruction .
Schools cannot even comply with a simple legal requirement to inform parents of the arrangements of the right to not attend religious instruction, which is a condition of state funding.
The Minister for Education, Norma Foley and the Department of Education is aware that this is happening and will do nothing about it.
In 2020 Atheist Ireland wrote to the Minister and also the Oireachtas Education Committee. We compiled a Report of 100 Admission Policies. To date nothing has changed and it seems that church and state are doing all they can to ensure that parents do not exercise their constitutional rights in relation to the education of their children. They want to make things as hard as they can for parents and their children who do not suport the ethos of the school.
Under Article 44.2.4 the state funding of schools is conditional on the right of students to attend the school and not attend religious instruction, yet this is given no practical application on the ground.
Church and State are afraid to give practical application to the right to not attend religious instruction and to enforce it because they know that the numbers of students not attending religious instruction will increase significantly.
If they were at all committed to the Constitutional rights of parents they would ensure that the right to not attend religious instruction was given practical application on the ground and is enforced. Giving lip service to the right doesn’t work. It must be enforced.
Section 62.7(n) of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 states that:
“62.7 An Admission Policy shall…
(n) provide details of the school’s arrangements in respect of any student, where the parent
of that student, or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the
student, has requested that the student attend the school without attending religious
instruction at the school (which arrangements shall not result in a reduction in the school
day in respect of the student concerned)”
It is the Board of Management of schools that make policy, not the Principal of the School or the teachers. This means that when the Admission policy is published (a legal requirement) the school Principal and teachers should already be aware of the arrangements for students who exercise their right to not attend religious instruction. This means that a decision has been taken by the Board of management not to put those arrangements in their Admission Policies notwithstanding the fact that they are legally obliged to do so.
The purpose of the legal requirement to put the arrangements for students not attending religious instructions was to ensure transparency.
The majority of Admission policies tell parents to come into the school and discuss the issue at a meeting. That is not the purpose of Section 62-7(n) of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018.
This refusal to put the arrangements into Admission policy comes from the Patron bodies and its purpose is to stem the flow of students exercising their right to not attend religious instruction. At primary level the main Patron body is the Catholic Church.
Here are some quotes about this Section of the Act from the then Minister for Education Richard Bruton during the Oireachtas debate on the issue:
“The Bill also requires schools to publish an Admission Policy which will include details of
the school’s arrangements for students who do not want to attend religious instruction. This
is an important measure which will help ensure transparency from the outset as to how a
school will uphold the rights of parents in this regard.”
Section 62 “sets some mandatory requirements for a school’s Admission Policy, which
include: setting out the characteristic spirit of the school; including an admission statement;
providing details of the school’s arrangements for students who do not wish to attend
“What we are really discussing is how to address the absolute constitutional right of a child
to opt out of the religious activities within the school, if he or she chooses.”
“We are strengthening the provision to meet the constitutional right of every child not to
have to attend religious instruction. This will be enforced by requiring it to be explicitly
stated in the admissions policy of religious schools as to how they propose to honour that.
We are introducing a charter for parents and students to ensure that they will have more say
over time in all of the dimensions of school policy. In the case of multi-denominational ETB
schools at second level, we will ensure that religion is treated as an option and not as a
compulsory subject. We are making several changes which are going to give rise to a much
“There is the matter of issuing directions and we have made a significant change in this Bill.
Before a child enrols in a school, the school would have to set out the policy it provides with
respect to attending religious instruction. This is an area where there has been a good deal
of evolution and we must see more.”
“In this Bill I am also requiring schools to set out in their admissions policies how they will
accommodate children who are exercising a constitutional right not to attend religious
instruction. I have also indicated to schools operating under the multi-denominational
education and training board, ETB, banner at second level that they have an obligation to
talk to the parents of pupils about what the parents want and to provide a real curricular
option for children at second level in those schools as an alternative to religion.”
It is clear that the purpose of this requirement is to protect the inalienable Constitutional rights of parents by providing transparency from the outset so that parents know these details before they choose a school for their children. However, it has failed to do this and Minister Foley and the Department of Education will do nothing about it.
Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign for the Constitutional rights of parents and their children to be given practical application on the ground in all schools.