The vast majority of primary schools in Ireland are patronised by a religious body. Of these schools, in all but 3 cases, it is a Christian body that governs the ethos of the school. With around 20% of the population now identifying as a minority (census, 2016), schools are doing their best to be inclusive to children and teachers from different backgrounds, while trying to uphold their ethos. While it is recognised that this is an almost impossible ask, schools must accommodate families that do not wish to partake in faith formation classes, known as opting out.
There are new regulations now in place that schools must publish how they accommodate children from minority backgrounds.
Furthermore, the vast majority of teachers (98%, NUIG) are from white, Irish, Christian backgrounds. Evidence suggests that religion has a role in excluding teachers from minority faiths into the profession. However, teachers do have a right to also opt out of providing faith formation classes.
However, how do families know what their local school does to accommodate their “opted out” children? How does a teacher know whether they should ask to opt out of teaching religion in a denominational school?
This website aims to showcase schools that care about minorities but it also sets a challenge to them. If schools truly wish to be inclusive, it would seem only right to let the public know how they cater and accommodate people of minority backgrounds. To help, we created a template policy for schools for opting out. Schools had 18 months exclusive use of this form to demonstrate how they accommodate pupils and teachers. The site was featured in Leadership+ which is read by over 95% of principals. Opting Out also wrote to every management body to ask them to inform their schools. We also asked for the INTO to support the site. 1% of schools took this opportunity.
After 18 months, we have decided to open the site to the public to account for how they believe their school is accommodating their pupils. Schools will have the opportunity to correct any information that they believe is not true. To make this clear, all schools on the website will be marked clearly as either: VERIFIED by the school, or UNVERIFIED.
Ideally, we would like all primary schools to be open how they accommodate children and adults of minority backgrounds and we hope that this site will support this aim. The site will publish statistics from time to time and send them to the media. All information on the site is public information and is therefore GDPR compliant. If a school does not wish for its information to be displayed, this can be arranged but we would note on the school’s profile page that the school did not wish for the information to be shared.