Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Republic of Ireland bids to make it easier for schoolchildren to opt out of religion

Religion classes would be at the beginning or the end of the school day
Religion classes would be at the beginning or the end of the school day

Irish primary school timetables could be arranged to make it easier for children to avoid religion classes under options being considered by the Republic's Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.

Religion classes would be at the beginning or the end of the school day so that children who are not involved don't feel excluded.

This would avoid a situation where a child was excluded from a class midway through the school day, and made to feel different.

It would also avoid the teaching of religion against parents' wishes because the school had no way of supervising the pupil outside the class.

But moving religious classes to the beginning or end of the day would pose its own challenge, including transport and supervision issues, if children were arriving or leaving at different times.

Mr Quinn has strong personal views on the place of religion in schools.

He will air his thoughts on the subject today, when he addresses the annual conference of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO).

The minister is giving a taste of his thinking on ways to ensure that schools are inclusive of children of all faiths, and none.

How primary schools deal with religion -- not just teaching it, but also matters such as the display of religious artefacts.

As well as putting religion classes at the beginning or end of the day, Mr Quinn also points to another possible option.

This would involve religion classes being held at different times for different groups in the same year.

He said this would allow students opting out of religion classes to participate in another class, although he acknowledged that such an arrangement could work better in larger schools.

Mr Quinn said that in working on proposals for a white paper, he was conscious of Ireland's constitutional and international obligations.

These require respect of the rights of children and parents in relation to education and freedom of religion.

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