News – 15 October 2011

School council debates special religious instruction

Recently a school council member sought the Humanist Society’s advice on special religious instruction (SRI) and later reported on the next meeting of the council.

… a very cordial school council meeting was had, where a number of people were surprised by the nature of the Access ministries curriculum.

As it happens four different SRI religions are taught in the school (at parent request), and approx 50% of the students opt out of  SRI.

Given this the councils decision was to:

A: Alter the enrolment form to make it very clear what would be taught in SRI, making specific reference to the fact Access ministries would be the provider, and that their curriculum was not ‘general’ religious studies.

B: Make it clear on the form that approx 50% of students did not attend SRI lessons, so that no pressure to conform would be implied.

C: Since the enrolment form only applied to new students, we would ensure we made this new information available to all parents, should they wish they wish to re-evaluate their original choice, given the new detail.

D: the school teaching staff were keen to stress that the nature and content of SRI was not within their control.*

There were a few at the meeting who felt SRI had no place within school hours, this was met with some resistance from the teaching staff who felt that they were obliged to provide it by the Education Department. Therefore the compromise outlined above was felt to be a good start, giving parents the information they need to make an informed choice, and some do choose to enrol their children into SRI.

We note the recent changes by the department with glee.

*This comment (D) is significant because ACCESS ministries claims that its voluntary code of practice is policed by supervising schoolteachers and that any proselytising would be reported immediately to the principal!

Report by Harry Gardner

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