How does your school accommodate children when opting out from religion?

Based on over 5 years of research, this website has now collated enough information to make its conclusions. Feedback was sought from individual schools, parents and caregivers, and representative bodies. The following data may be of interest to anyone interested in the role of religion in Irish primary schools (96% of schools are patronised by religious orders) and the difficulties faced by families who do not subscribe to the belief system of their school.

primary schools in Ireland
Denominational Schools
counties with 1 or fewer multidenominational primary schools

Opting Out Policies

Section 62.7(n) of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 requires schools to publish an admission policy which will include details of the school’s arrangements for students who do not want to attend religious instruction. There is a specific section in every Admission’s Policy for this purpose.

Despite this, the vast majority of schools evade the Act by writing a line in this section telling parents that in order to opt their child out of religious instruction, they must seek out a meeting with the principal, in writing.

The Department of Education states that it is up to individual Boards of Managements to enforce cooperation with the 2018 Act. However, Boards must also comply with the instruction of their patron body. There is therefore no recourse for families to receive the simple information of how their child will be accommodated. 

In Europe, Irish primary schools spend the most time on compulsory religious instruction.


People that identify as Catholic in 2022 Census in Ireland


People aged between 25 and 29 that identify as Catholic in 2022 census


People that married in a Catholic Church in 2022 according to census


Schools under Catholic Patronage

How does Faith Formation work in Irish Schools?

Catholic Schools

Ethos permeates through school day

Faith Formation classes during school day

Preparation for Sacraments during school day

Opting out is necessary to avoid faith instruction

CoI Schools

Ethos permeates through school day

Faith Formation classes during school day

Preparation for Rites of Passage mostly outside school day

Opting out is necessary to avoid faith instruction

Interdenominational Schools

Christian ethos permeates through school day

Faith Formation classes during school day, children split into Catholic / CoI

Preparation for Sacraments during school day for Catholics

Opting out is necessary to avoid faith instruction

Jewish Schools

Ethos permeates through school day

Faith Formation classes separate to Secular Instruction

Preparation for Rites of Passage outside school day

Opting out is not necessary as faith instruction takes places separately

Multidenominational Schools

No one religious value permeates through school day

Faith Formation classes outside school day*

Preparation for Rites of Passage outside school day

Opting out is not necessary as faith instruction occurs outside school day on an opt in basis

  • As the Muslim schools currently do not have children from other faiths, opting out is not something that is relevant.
  • *Outside of ET and CNS, some multidenominational schools segregate children during school day for faith formation. Some schools that identify as multidenominational may in fact be interdenominational. Gaelscoileanna, in particular can be denominational, interdenominational, or multidenominational.

No Data Found

When do specific faith formation classes take place in schools?

While religion permeates throughout the school day, there is specific time for discrete faith formation, which families can legally opt out from. We asked what time of the day do schools ask their teachers to provide religious instruction to their pupils. While not ideal, having faith formation provided at the beginning or end of the school day may make it easier for some families to collect children that are opted out. While most schools left it up to individual teachers to pick a time (58% of schools) the chart on the left shows the proportions when schools specify the time.

How do schools accommodate Opted Out kids?

While schools are supposed to let parents know their arrangements, most do not. We spent five years asking schools to let us know how children are accommodated.

From the responses, the only thing that’s easy to see is that there are no consistencies. A child has about a one in two chance of staying in their own seat doing work provided by their teacher during faith formation class.

No Data Found

School Uniforms

It may not be a dealbreaker for many people, but wearing a crucifix can be problematic for some. We asked schools to self-report on their school uniform as to whether it contained a religious symbol or not.

With Religious Symbol 51%

Perhaps more interestingly was whether it was optional to wear the uniform crest if it contained a religious symbol. The percentage that stated it was optional was:

0 %

Church Visits

In most denominational schools, visits to the local church form part of the school year. This can range from weekly visits to less often, depending on the school. A visit to the church mostly involves a prayer service, and families are entitled to opt out of any form of worship. However, schools are not required to make special accommodations short of not forcing the child to join the service. We asked schools to report the accommodations they make.

Again, it appears there is no consistent approach in schools. Those that answered “other” stated either it was a case-by-case basis or that the issue hasn’t arisen.

No Data Found

No Data Found

School Assemblies

School assemblies are a time when all children come together as a community. They are often addressed by the principal and sometimes there is a performance by a class. In many cases, there is a collective worship element where everyone says prayers or sings religious songs. We asked schools whether families can opt out of assemblies. Percentages on the left.

Where “Other” was chosen, it was because the school does not host assemblies.

Only 12% of schools said they have a defined policy on opting out from religion.

What next?

Given the education system is predominantly denominational in its nature, often the only option available to a family is to attend a school with a religious ethos where they can opt out of explicit religious influence. The statistics demonstrate that there is no consistency and despite the government requiring schools to explicitly state how they are accommodating opted out families, it is not happening in the vast majority of schools.

Ultimately, there should be no such thing as opting out. Every child should be able to take part in every aspect of the school day. If you are affected or if you are interested in tackling the issue, the groups on the right may be of use.

Please also use the menu above for advice and more detailed information.