Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan, announced today that Rule 68 would be repealed in January 2016. Rule 68 states that religious instruction is “by far the most important” part of the school curriculum. “Rule 68 is archaic. I will repeal it,” she said.
Religious instruction is currently set at 30 minutes of teaching time per day in primary schools, in contrast to 15 minutes for science or physical education.
However, Minister O’Sullivan has stated that “We must build in protection for the small number of minority faith schools which serve dispersed communities – effectively eliminating minority faith education would represent a departure from, and not a move towards, a diverse and pluralist education system”.
The new Education (Admission to School) Bill which was due to be passed before the Oireachtas before the end of the current Dáil session, now looks to be deferred to next year with the possibility of being replaced with “comprehensive, radical admissions legislation”.
The Admissions Bill was set to remove the ability of schools to charge admission fees and also to lower the percentage of past pupils allowed in favour of other applicants when assessing applications to 10%. The Minister has also committed to amending the Equal Status Act which currently allows schools to discriminate against pupils in admission policies on the basis of religion.
This issue has been given much media attention of late, with reports from parents who could not get their child into the local school, or in some cases into any school in the surrounding area, due to their non-denominational status. With 96% of schools in the state coming under religious patronage and 20% of those schools being oversubscribed, this issue is affecting a growing number of parents in an increasingly more diverse population.