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School students could start late or finish early instead of going to religion classes

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn also said he was disappointed in the lack of “genuinely inclusive schools”.

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn
Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn
Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

PRIMARY SCHOOL STUDENTS could soon be allowed to leave early if they have religion class at the end of the day.

Or they could start their day later. Or participate in another class instead of religious education.

The option to opt in or out of religion class was mooted by the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn at the annual conference of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) this morning.

The minister told the audience of teachers that he is exploring different options in respect to education and religion.

He said that options could be introduced whereby students could either opt in or out of religion classes or there could be a possibility that religion classes will be held at different times for different class groups or at the end of each school day.

He suggested that more flexible timetabling for religious education could be one possibility which would allow students opting out of religion classes to participate in another class.

“Such an arrangement could work better in larger schools,” said Quinn, who conceded there could be issues with transport and supervision.

Religion class

Quinn said children “have a right to develop this understanding of the world,” adding that faith formation is equally important for many families.

“The rights of these families are clearly outlined in our constitution. So too are the rights of families who wish to allow their children to opt-out of this aspect of religious education,” he said.

Quinn was highly critical of the slow pace of reform in terms of school patronage.

“We are regularly told that our denominational schools are inclusive and there is anecdotal evidence that this is true in many cases – thanks to the good work of teachers, who are determined to welcome all children. However, we need clearly demonstrated examples of genuinely inclusive schools, so that other schools can learn what works for them,” said Quinn.

Catholic Church 

He said that it was “regrettable” that after two years of the publication of the Forum report, “we have yet to see such exemplars furnished by the Catholic Church – the main Patron of primary schools in this country”.

Quinn said it was “disappointing” but said he remained convinced of the importance of having such exemplars, to help guide the approach in all schools.

Speaking about an interview with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, where he was quoted suggesting that “a more robust collaboration between the Department and the Church would make these things move a little quickly”, he said, that he looked forward to developing that “robust collaboration”.

He said that teachers may have other ideas that he would like to hear, adding that options need to be explored as to how schools can accommodate “the changing contours of belief and religious practice in Ireland”.

Column: Louise O’Keeffe ruling shows Ireland’s school patronage system is unworkable>

Poll: Should children be allowed to go home early to avoid religion class?

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