ETB schools are multi-denominational schools and as such are required to serve their communities however composed. This includes providing for religious instruction according to the profile of the students who attend the school.
In relation to religious instruction my Department recently published Circular letter 0013/2018 “Religious instruction and worship in certain second level schools in the context of Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution of Ireland and section 30 of the Education Act, 1998 ” which sets out a new approach to the arrangements that are made for religious instruction and worship in Education and Training Board (ETB) and Community post primary schools.
The new arrangements will require State multi-denominational post primary schools to consult with parents and, in the case of pupils who have reached the age of 18, the pupil, to ascertain their wishes in relation to religious instruction. Schools will be required to incorporate parental choice regarding religious instruction as part of the normal processes for planning and timetabling subject choices generally. Decisions in relation to alternative subject(s) offered for those who do not want religious instruction is a matter for each school concerned.
The key change is that those pupils who do not want instruction in line with the requirements of any particular religion should be timetabled for alternative tuition throughout the school year rather that supervised study or other activities. These changes will ensure that children who do not want to participate in religious instruction will have a meaningful alternative.
While Circular 13/2018 has immediate effect my Department acknowledges that it will take time for schools to reflect the new arrangements in their work of revising new timetables for the 2018/19 school year. Regard will also have to be made for existing curricular choices and arrangements in place for junior and senior years.
I believe that a school’s arrangements for those students who do not wish to attend religious instruction should be made clear to parents at the outset. In that regard, the Programme for Government contains a commitment to publish new school admission legislation taking into account current draft proposals.
I am bringing forward in the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill a specific requirement that school enrolment policies must include details of the school’s arrangements for any students who do not wish to attend religious instruction. I believe 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. The Bill passed Committee Stage on 28 June 2017 and will shortly proceed to Report Stage.