News – 21 August 2015

Religious Education banished from classes

Victorian Humanists applaud the government’s decision to restore the secular character of public education.

[Extracts from the article by Henrietta Cook and Timna Jacks, The Age (Melbourne), 21 August 2015]

Victorian schools will scrap special religious instruction [SRI] from class time, with changes to the state’s curriculum throwing the future of the controversial program in doubt. The Andrews government has ordered that the weekly 30-minute program move to lunchtime and be­fore and after school in 2016 to make way for new content on world histories, cultures, faiths and ethics. The state government said stu­dents were missing out on essential learning while SRI took place.

The decision to axe SRI from the curriculum has been met with fierce opposition by chaplaincy organisa­tion Access Ministries, the main provider of religious instruction. The organisation’s chief execut­ive, Dawn Penney, said the govern­ment failed to consult SRI providers and nearly 30,000 Victorian parents about its decision.

[Education Minister] Mr Merlino said qualified teachers would deliver the new faith and ethics content. “This new content helps all school students, regardless of their back­ground or faith, to understand the world around them and the ideas and values that shape that world,” he said.

Lara Wood, a spokeswoman for Fairness in Religions in School, a group that has spent the past four years campaigning against SRI, claimed victory. “We won, we got what we wanted.” She said religious instruction pro­viders were proselytising in primary schools while students missed out on learning. Australian Education Union Vic­torian president Meredith Peace, another opponent of SRI, welcomed the announcement, saying state schools should be secular. “We didn’t believe SRI was con­sistent with that.”

SRI providers have battled to keep primary school students in the program after the state government changed its policy in 2011, requiring parents to “opt in” to the classes rather than “opt out”. Enrolments fell from 92,808 Vic­torian students in 2013 to 53,361 in 2014: a 42 per cent plunge.

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