Monday 17 December 2018

Extend the opt-out on religion to all schools, says union

General secretary of the TUI John MacGabhann. Photo: Dylan Vaughan
General secretary of the TUI John MacGabhann. Photo: Dylan Vaughan

Anne-Marie Walsh

All secondary school students should be included in a plan to offer them classes in other subjects if they drop religion, a union has warned.

General secretary of the Teachers' Union of Ireland John MacGabhann said he was surprised that pupils in most schools were not included in the Government plan unveiled earlier this week.

He said those left out included students in schools run by religious groups, comprehensives and fee-pay institutions.

The Department of Education has announced that the plan will be introduced only in State-run schools.

It means students who might have had to sit through religion class, although they were not participating in it, must be offered tuition in another subject instead.

Although it could be said that students at these schools deliberately opted for a particular religious ethos, they have the constitutional right to opt out.

There could be a demand to opt out among parents who may not be religious but accepted a place due to a lack of school places in their area, or who chose a school for other reasons.

It has also been speculated that students approaching the Leaving Cert may opt out to get what could be seen as a 'grind' in another exam subject.

"If Minister Richard Bruton is making this an obligation, he must do it for all," said Mr MacGabhann.

"The minister has left a major gap. It is an inalienable right for any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at the school."

However, he said there were not enough staff to implement the plan.

"Resources are super- stretched and for the minister to say blithely, to the point of foolishly, to do a lot more with less, is simply to create the wrong impression.

"It becomes at some point a con job," he added.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Skills said there was no intention to extend the plan.

She said community colleges and schools were State-run multi-denominational schools.

She said that under a new Admissions Bill, all schools would be required to outline how they intended to treat students who do not want to participate in religious instruction.

The spokesperson said the changes would ensure children who did not want to participate in religion would no longer be sitting at the back of the class or confined to the library.

"This change does not have resource implications," she said.

"Rather, each school will be required to incorporate parental choices regarding religious instruction as part of the normal processes for planning and timetabling subject selection."

She said religion would become like other optional subjects that students could choose from, although the situation would be kept under review.

Irish Independent

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