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

by Michael Nugent on October 11, 2013

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 cpu@education.gov.ie
  • 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 education@atheist.ie

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

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

In order to respect the human rights of all parents and children supervision should be provided for parents that wish their children to opt out of Communal prayers, hymns and any religious school assemblies. Communal prayers etc., by their very nature, cannot be inclusive of the non-religious.

Schools should recognise that prayers are the practice of religion and minorities have a right to opt out of them. 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.

6. Religious Symbols

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

7. 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.

8. 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 it “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).

To ensure that the human rights of all parents is 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. The right to respect 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.

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

CONSULTATION ON PROMOTING GREATER INCLUSIVENESS IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS

Respondent’s Details:

Name

Position (if applicable)

Organisation (if applicable)

Address

Telephone

Email address

Date

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