First ever guide to navigating religion in NI schools issued by NI Humanists

20 April, 2023

Northern Ireland Humanists has published the first ever comprehensive guide on how to navigate religion in Northern Ireland schools.

The guide, called Religion in Northern Ireland Schools – A guide for parents and young people, offers a wealth of information on topics such as school ethos and admissions, religious education (RE), collective worship, relationships and sexuality education, and the teaching of creationism and so-called ‘intelligent design’ in science.

It is hoped the guide will help those of all religions and beliefs (not just humanists) be better at dealing with a confusing and often challenging school system.

Apart from a very small number of independent schools, all of Northern Ireland’s schools have a Christian ethos, hold daily Christian worship, and teach RE from a Christian perspective. This even includes the integrated schools. The RE curriculum was written by the four largest denominational churches, and is all about Christianity apart from one secondary school module on ‘world religions’. Humanism is excluded entirely. However, a recent judgment in a High Court case taken by a humanist parent and his child found that the Christian RE and collective worship breaches human rights legislation.

The guide covers topics like the legal right of parents and young people to withdraw from religious education and collective worship, and the importance of providing inclusive assemblies for those who do not wish to participate in worship. It provides links to educational materials on humanism and suggestions for alternative assemblies. It also addresses the teaching of sensitive topics such as abortion and LGBT rights, and the importance of objective, critical, and pluralistic education on these issues.

Religion in schools… in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
We’ve published four guides for non-religious parents and young people. Download the guides below.

Humanist parent Laura Fitzsimons said:

‘Schools in Northern Ireland can be incredibly hard to navigate and as a non-religious parent this can be even more challenging. This guide will be invaluable in helping parents like me.’

Northern Ireland Humanists, which regularly receives requests for advice and support from parents on these topics, said the guide would help parents and young people navigate the system.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

‘As the number of non-religious people in Northern Ireland continues to grow, it is more important than ever that parents and young people have access to accurate, unbiased information on religion in schools. Our guide aims to provide just that, offering practical support and advice for those who may feel overwhelmed by the complex issues our segregated system means they face.’

The 2021 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey reported 28% of respondents ticking ‘No religion’. This number is far higher for younger people, including parents of young children.


For further comment or information, media should contact Northern Ireland Humanists coordinator Boyd Sleator at  or phone 07918 975 795.

Download Religion in Northern Ireland Schools: a guide for parents and young people.

Read our news article about the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey

Read our news article about recent laws to improve education in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.