In this project, we aim to investigate how schools handle requests for exemption from teaching and school activities based on religion and life stance.
We will also explore schools’ experiences of pupils being absent from lessons about specific themes in the curriculum, and to what extent and how such absences are attributed to pupils- or parents’ religious beliefs.
The overarching goal of the project is to contribute to the understanding of exemption and absences grounded in religion or life stance as phenomena in primary and secondary schools.
Central questions in the project will be variation between schools in the extent to pupils and parents ask for exemption, what strategies teachers and school leadership employ to accommodate such inquiries – or not – as well as what consequences different strategies have for individual pupils, particular categories of pupils and for the relationship between parents and school.
As outlined in Section 2-3a of the Norwegian Education Act, pupils have the right to be exempted from aspects of education that parents or pupils consider to be against their own religious beliefs or outlooks on life or that on the same grounds are deemed offensive or objectionable. The law states that the right to being exempted does not include a right to be exempted from subject matter outlined in the curriculum. From the age of 15, pupils may make requests for exemptions on their own behalf.
Currently, there exists no comprehensive nationwide overview of how schools apply these regulations or adjust teaching activities to prevent exemption requests or absences. It is important to generate knowledge on this topic as preventing children’s participation in instructional activities may constitute a violation of children’s right to education.
It may also constitute restriction on their right to self-realization, and hence be an example of what Norwegian authorities currently refer to as 'negative social control'. At the same time, the right to exemption is rooted in freedom of belief and parents' rights to upbringing, and the distinction between subject content and instructional activity may not always be clearcut.
The project’s primary focus is exemptions and absence grounded in religion and life stance; however, we will also explore whether parents and pupils present other justifications (e.g. cultural, political). We will also examine how schools accommodate alternative instruction for exempted pupils.
Related to this, we will explore how schools deal with pupils’ request for accommodating religious practice, for instance time for prayer or prayer spaces.