Presentation is loading. Please wait.

Presentation is loading. Please wait.

Opting Out of Religious Education:

Similar presentations

Presentation on theme: "Opting Out of Religious Education:"— Presentation transcript:

1 Opting Out of Religious Education:
A sufficient means to protect and respect freedom of thought in schools? RESEARCH TEAM: Alison Mawhinney Ulrike Niens Norman Richardson Yuko Chiba

2 International standards
Doctrinal religion may be taught in schools Parents have the right to opt their children out of doctrinal/confessional RE A parental right Exemptions or alternative provision must satisfy or accommodate the wishes of parents

3 Research questions What factors influence a young person’s decision to opt out (or not) of religious education? In what ways do young people believe opting out respects and protects their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion? How do young people from minority belief backgrounds experience opt out provision from religious education and other religious occasions in schools? Do conflicts arise between parents and young people regarding opt out of religious education? How are opt-outs viewed by minority belief parents and communities?

4 Northern Ireland context
A public school system – very few private/independent schools RE Core Syllabus: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist churches 2007 Revised Syllabus - World Religions section only for ages 11 – 14 Right to opt out is in domestic law; not a right for students

5 Research procedure Semi-structured interviews with people from minority belief backgrounds 26 students aged 13–18 24 parents having a child aged 13–18 6 community representatives (Hindu, Humanist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, Muslim and Pagan)

6 Community Representatives
Sample Students Parents Community Representatives Bahá’i 4 6 Hindu 2 1 Jewish Muslim 3 Humanist Atheist Non-belief 5 Pagan Mormon Jehovah’s Witness TOTAL 26 24

7 Lack of awareness They [schools] don't provide any information about that to parents. You are not told that that's available. It may well be the case if they made that clearer, there might be far more parents that say ‘Well actually I prefer my children to opt out.’ Because information is not provided at all, you wouldn't be aware of it. Most people wouldn’t. (Non-belief parent)

8 Reasons for opting out After I started doing the course it was all about…the life of Jesus and morality and Christian morality, and it was focused on the one religion and we were being taught it as if this was what we were meant to believe (Non belief student) Probably I would have stayed in RE if it wasn’t so single minded, well, I think single minded might be a bit of an exaggeration but if it would not have been so focused on Christian views… (Jewish student)

9 Considerations of exclusion
If you had a child that was very shy and didn't say very much, then it might be quite damaging for them if they were to be forcibly removed from the class or forced to sit at the back of a class and not take part in the lesson, it’s not very good (Non-belief parent) To identify your child as different, in a school environment, is to court your child's social exclusion (Pagan representative)

10 Reasons for staying in RE class
Well, I would even consider being an RE teacher I like it so much...I really like philosophy because you are looking at the different reasons why people believe in God and why people don’t, because you could say ‘oh well if God’s real then volcanoes wouldn’t happen and people wouldn’t die’...there are so many different arguments (Muslim student) I don’t really want [to opt out], there is no point in singling myself out and going to sit in the library for an hour a week when I can just be bored in RE for an hour a week (Jewish student)

11 Status of minority beliefs
I wouldn’t say respected, I wouldn’t say disrespected. It was just kind of, I was just kind of not ignored but just not bothered really by anyone else (Bahá’í student) I don’t think it was [respected] at all. Interviewer: Why’s that? Because when if I got asked a question and I didn’t know it, I just went all quiet and then the teacher asked someone else and everyone was looking at me like ‘My god, how could you not know that?’ and I am like ‘How would I know that? I am not Christian’...and they keep blaming me for not knowing something that I don’t believe in and something I don’t understand (Muslim student)

12 Parental vs child right
Just because you are not legally an adult yet it doesn’t mean you are a child...I think it’s just society’s view in general of, you know, children’s ability to decide really or be mature about things. (Jewish student) I think it’s terribly important that you let children make up their own mind (Non belief parent)

13 Conflict (Mormon student)
I understand even at home there could be this mixture of feelings possibly where the parents are more religious and the son or daughter wouldn’t be…in that instance the parents wouldn’t choose to opt out their child because they believe that they should be getting this thing, whereas the child genuinely isn’t interested in it and would prefer not to have it. I can understand where that would become a moral debate about whether the parents actually have the right to force their child to learn this stuff or not (Mormon student)

14 Dissatisfaction with RE in NI
I expected it to be much more valuing of different religions, religious backgrounds and of humanists or people of no religion but I haven’t found any of that. I have found it very dogmatic (Humanist parent) [Looking at the Core Syllabus] Are you aware of this one from Leviticus? … This is the one that says ‘Man shall not lie with a man. It is an abomination’. How can that be right? How can that be right if they are teaching under morality that it is abomination for a man to lie with a man and how can this foster understanding...of different people’s sexuality and living in peace? (Non belief parent)

15 School authorities I went to speak to the vice principal and I just said to her ‘I wanted to say to you that my family are Jewish. I've looked at syllabus and it’s very, very Christian-based and won’t be appropriate for our children, and would it be alright of she opted out?’ And the woman was horrified. She was visibly shocked…she said ‘Oh my goodness!’ She said ‘Oh everybody does RE, you have to do RE but’ and then she said ‘I'm sorry I've just never been asked this before’… I said to her letting her off, ‘Look, you don't have to answer me now, give it some time to think about it’, and she said ‘Thank you very much, I will think about it and I’ll get back to you if that's alright’. And I went away thinking ‘Oh God’. (Jewish parent)

16 School authorities I said, ‘Can you ask [the principal]?’ and he said, ‘OK I will see but normally we don’t exempt, this doesn’t happen ... It’s really doubtful’. And I think it was the principal who actually replied and came back to me through the vice-principal that ‘The principal has said no’. So that was that. This principal God himself. No it wasn’t possible. (Bahá’í parent)

17 Recommendations In General: there is a need to …
increase awareness of opt-outs improve procedures improve alternative provision for those who do opt out improve the content and teaching of RE

18 Recommendations Addressed generally to international human rights supervisory bodies & educational authorities Addressed specifically to the educational authorities in Northern Ireland

19 To human rights supervisory bodies
Existence of legal right does not of itself guarantee protection of freedom of religion and belief Does not of itself ensure that children of minority belief backgrounds are respected For confessional/doctrinal RE should there be an opt-in rather than an opt-out? In line with UNCRC, (older) children should themselves have the right to decide

20 Educational Authorities
Should confirm that the right to opt-out applies to all schools Should issue clear guidelines to parents and teachers about procedures and alternatives Schools should make clear if or when the teaching of RE is doctrinal or confessional Alternative activities should be educational Should ensure that minority children do not feel marginalised

21 Curriculum Should be clear information to parents about the aims and purposes of RE RE and collective worship should be inclusive and welcoming of diversity Teachers should be properly trained in respect of these matters – especially RE teachers in relation to religious diversity

22 Authorities in Northern Ireland
Should ensure that some or all of RE is non-confessional and inclusive World religions should not be restricted to Key Stage 3 RE should be inspected properly Inspection should note particularly the needs of minorities More world religions at GCSE & A-level

23 A concluding point The simplistic application of opt-out procedures is often unhelpful and inadequate in dealing with the range of issues that arise from the teaching of religion in publicly-funded schools in plural societies. More sensitivity is required.

24 Thank you! Alison Mawhinney:
Norman Richardson: Project Website:

Download ppt "Opting Out of Religious Education:"

Similar presentations

Ads by Google