Religious education is one of the seven curricular areas of the Primary School Curriculum (1999) and schools are currently required to allocate thirty minutes per day for religious education. However, unlike other subject areas, the content of the religious curriculum provided by primary schools is not set by the Department of Education and Skills. Section 30 of the Education Act (1998) provides that time will be made available in the school day to teach curriculum that arises from the characteristic spirit of the school. This means that the content of the religious education programme in a primary school is determined by the patron of the school.
Under the Constitution and the provisions of Section 30(2)(e) of the Education Act 1998 parents have a right to have their children opt out of any subject which is contrary to the conscience of the parent of the student or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student themself.
The manner in which any school ensures that the right to opt out of any class including religion is upheld is a matter for the school concerned. The precise nature of the arrangements have to be considered by each school having regards to the particular circumstances in question including factors such as the numbers of children involved, the ages of those children and the availability of staff and physical space in the school concerned.
The Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector (2012) acknowledged that denominational religious education, including faith formation and sacramental preparation are long-established features of the primary system. With regard to denominational religious education in primary schools, the Forum’s Report did not recommend that it be removed from the school day.
However, the Advisory Group had concerns about the amount of time which can be devoted to sacramental preparation in some schools and they recommended that it should not be allowed to encroach on time allocated for the general curriculum. They also recommended on-going discussion with parents and clergy in this regard.
Multi-denominational schools, such as Community National Schools, teach a multi-belief and values curriculum, which is inclusive of all children. In such schools, faith formation and preparation for religious sacraments takes place outside of school hours.