Bruton and schools in stand-off on religion

Education minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Katherine Donnelly

Education Minister Richard Bruton and State-run post-primary schools are in a stand-off over an instruction to provide alternative tuition to pupils who opt out of religion classes, which is supposed to be effective from this month.

The issue mainly affects the 275 schools in the Education and Training Board (ETBI) sector and is intended to ensure that students who do not want to participate in religious instruction are timetabled for another class.

Pupils already have a right to opt out of religious instruction and worship, but may be left at the back of class or sent to another room for supervised study or other non-tuition activities.

When the directive was issued in February, there were claims that schools would not have the resources to provide alternative tuition, while the minister was accused of not drawing a distinction between religious instruction and the subject religious education, which is taken by many pupils.

ETBI said it had sought, but had not received, clarification on the implementation of the change, and its advice to schools was "to maintain the status quo".

Once clarification was received "the implications will be considered", it added.

Mr Bruton said every directive "has to be honoured", adding that "inspectors would be pursuing whatever avenues we need to, to ensure that schools respect what is required".

The Teachers' Union of Ireland said it too was awaiting confirmation that, provided it had not imported any element of faith formation or religious instruction into its programme, the opt-out did not apply to schools that offer the religious education subject.

On the issue of whether schools could expect funding increases, Mr Bruton said he recognised the pressures schools were under, but budgetary decisions had not been made.