How to let the Minister for Education know your views on inclusive primary schools

Atheist Ireland is suggesting the following advice for parents and other citizens who are making a submission to the Department of Education’s consultation on promoting greater inclusiveness in primary schools.

The Minister for Education is seeking submissions from the public on the following questions. The views expressed will help shape Government policy and will input into the preparation of a White Paper next year.

  • Your views on the relevant recommendations made by the Advisory Group, in particular how these recommendations can be translated into practice in ways which both take account of the ethos and traditions of existing schools and ensure respect for the rights of those of different traditions
  • Any concerns you may have arising from the recommendations of the Advisory Group
  • Examples of best practice on promoting inclusiveness in school
  • Other views you might have on making primary schools more inclusive and welcoming places for all children from the local community.

You can send your submission

  • by e-mail to
  • by post to Central Policy Unit, Department of Education and Skills, Block 2 Floor 1, Marlborough Street, Dublin 1.

The closing date for submissions is 22nd November 2013

This document includes advice from Atheist Ireland for you to consider including nine important issues in your submission, if you want to see a secular education system that respects equally the human rights of all families to freedom of belief, and freedom from discrimination.

Please consider also sending a copy of your submission to Atheist Ireland, if you would like us to be aware of the suggestions you have made to the Minister.

You can email a copy of your submission to Jane Donnelly at

1. Religious Integrated Curriculum

In order to ensure that there is inclusion in ‘stand alone’ schools the human rights of all parents should be guaranteed and protected without discrimination. Parents cannot opt out their child from religion that is integrated into the curriculum and consequently cannot ensure that the teaching of their children is in conformity with their convictions. At present schools are not legally obliged to inform parents where exactly they are integrating religion into the various subjects.

In 2008 the UN Human Rights Committee stated that:-

“22.   The Committee notes with concern that the vast majority of Ireland’s primary schools are privately run denominational schools that have adopted a religious integrated curriculum thus depriving many parents and children who so wish to have access to secular primary education. (arts. 2, 18, 24, 26).

The State party should increase its efforts to ensure that non-denominational primary education is widely available in all regions of the State party, in view of the increasingly diverse and multi-ethnic composition of the population of the State party.”

Article 2 is the right to be free from discrimination.

Article 18 is the right to freedom of conscience.

Article 24 is the rights of the child.

Article 26 if the right to equality before the law.

There is a legal obligation on the state to ensure that children can receive a non-denominational education.

Question : How can a non-denominational education be reconciled with the desire of a religious school to educate in a religious ethos, and especially to teach a religious integrated curriculum?

It is impossible to opt out of a religious integrated curriculum. A religious integrated curriculum includes grace before meals, class prayers, religious views on abortion and homosexuality, religious assemblies, religious ceremonies, prayers over the intercom, religious symbols on school uniforms and teaching as a truth the existence of a god etc etc.  How can parents identify the areas throughout the curriculum and daily life of the school and then opt their child out of  these areas. It simply cannot be done.

To ensure that the human rights of all parents are respected the Irish Human Rights Commission has recommended that, Section 15 of the Education Act be amended to provide for modifications to the integrated curriculum to ensure that the rights of minority faith or non faith children are also recognised therein.

If the  schools are to be inclusive of all children the above recommendation of the Irish Human Rights Commission must be implemented in full as otherwise the State is failing in its positive obligation to take sufficient care that the curriculum is conveyed in an objective critical and pluralistic manner. That is the limit that must not be exceeded. The right to respect for the convictions of all parents is an absolute right and not to be balanced against the rights of others or one that can be gradually achieved.

The Recommendation from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism is that Rule 68 of the Rule for National Schools be removed immediately and that provision is made for denominational religious education/faith formation to be taught as a discrete subject.

2. Remove Section 7 – 3 (c) of the Equal Status Act

The starting point for inclusion is that all children are equal and have access without discrimination. No school can call itself inclusive if at the starting point it discriminates. That is not inclusion, diversity or a welcome.

Religious discrimination in access to schools breaches the human rights of parents and children. All children should have access to their local schools without discrimination on any ground. The state is failing in their positive obligation to respect the philosophical convictions of parents if they ‘provide for’ their education in schools that discriminate on religious grounds in access to education.

In their Submission to the Department of Education on school enrolments the Irish Human Rights Commission states: “The IHRC recommends that pending further diversity in school provision the Government amend section 7 of the Equal Status Acts 2000-2008.

3. Opting out of Religious instruction/formation classes.

The burden placed on parents by the failure to legally oblige schools to supervise children or to provide an alternative subject has rendered the right to opt out inoperable in practice. Parents are deterred from even exercising the right to opt out because of the burden it will create.

Students should be able to opt into an alternative course in ethics in accordance with the Toledo Guiding Principles to accord equal respect for all children so that they do not feel ostracised. It should be a meaningful alternative and parents should be given a choice when enrolling in the school.

Enrolement form should require parents to either tick  the ethics class or the Religious Instruction class, with full explanation of what each entails. There should be an OPT IN in the case of both classes.

4. The Right to respect for Private and Family life

The right to respect for Private and Family life is a human right. Parents should not be obliged to divulge private information to schools regarding their religious or non-religious convictions. There should be no need for the school authorities to require parents to give over this information if there is equality of access and if parents are given a choice in enrolment forms of whether to enrol children into faith formation or ethics classes. Schools should be made aware that parents have a right to private and family life and schools should not require parents to divulge their convictions or question them regarding what they believe or do not believe.

The local priest should not have access to the class and the school should not divulge any private information regarding parents contact details or religious or non-religious affiliations to clergy even if they are the patron of the school.

5. Sacramental preparation

There should be no sacramental preparation during schools hours as this alienates and stigmatises non-majority children. Sacramental preparation should take place in parishes. Time spend on sacramental preparation during school hours also means that minorities lose out on precious school time.

6. Opting out of Communal prayers, reflections hymns and school assemblies

Schools should recognise that prayers and hymns are the practice of religion and therefore cannot be inclusive of the non-religious. These type of events should be inclusive of the whole school community and presented as a time for reflection.

Graduation ceremonies should not be religious but should include all the school community. Parents should not be put in the position that they have to opt their child out of the Graduation ceremony because it is an organised religious ceremony.

There should be no prayers before lessons or grace before meals. In order to include all children, schools should have periods of reflection that are inclusive of all.

7. Religious Symbols

There should be no religious symbols in schools. Schools should not oblige children to wear a religious symbol on their school uniform.

8. Teacher Training

One of the Recommendations in the Report from the Forum on Patronage is that the Minister for Education and Skills should make schools aware of the human rights requirements of national and international law. Human Rights law requires that the state take sufficient care that information and knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. Teachers should be trained in human rights so that they respect the human rights of all parents and their children.

9. The right to an effective remedy

One of the Recommendations from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism is that the Minister for Education should make schools aware of the human rights requirement of national and international law. Parents and their children should have access to an effective remedy to vindicate their human rights.

Appendix: Submission Form

Please include these details with your submission


Respondent’s Details:


Position (if applicable)

Organisation (if applicable)



Email address


1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Patricia Coffey October 14, 2013

    To Whom it May Concern,

    I am writing to you hoping you might have some clarity of a situation which has arisen in my son’s secondary school.
    Firstly , I am a same sex parent and it has come to my attention that the religion teacher is making comparisons between homosexuality, religion and morals. She has stated that the present curriculum, mentions that religion enables you to have a moral compass and the examples of questioning morals are related to homosexuality and abortion.
    I was quiet concerned to hear that sexuality in this day and age is taught in religion. I also voiced my concerns that the teacher ,stated that religion in schools is Christian based. Alongside this it was also mentioned in the classroom that by the teachings of Christianity abortion is murder. While I am aware that legislation is fuzzy around this subject, I do not believe that this matter is suitable for teenagers developing their own views.
    I hope you might be able to assist me in verifying what connection there is between, religion, sexuality and morals.

    Kind Regards ,

    Trisha Coffey


Leave reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.