School Council Survey on Religious Instruction

Photo of woman at desk typing on laptop computerIn June 2011, the Wellbeing section of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development issued instructions to all school councils not to canvass the opinions of school parents on Special Religious Instruction (SRI) within the school environment. This instruction was in contravention of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006, section 2.3.5 (i). In this section, school councils are specifically instructed to inform themselves on what parents think.

To assist this gathering of information, the Humanist Society of Victoria (HSV) prepared the model survey below. HSV sent the survey via email to State primary schools on 17 July 2011. Each school distributed the survey and collected and analysed the results.

Survey on RI by [Insert the school’s name] Council

Introduction

[Insert the school’s name] School Council is conducting a short survey of preferences and attitudes amongst the school community to the school’s provision of religious instruction (RI), in order to assist in future planning.  The Education and Training Reform Act 2006 provides that schools may offer religious instruction, which must be given by volunteers from outside the school, under guidelines set by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD). Participation is not compulsory, and parents may request in writing for their children to be excused.

The aims of the survey are

  1. To gauge the degree of satisfaction in the school community with the current RI program
  2. To gauge the level of interest in additional RI and non-religious options
  3. To gather ideas from the school community about meaningful activities which could be provided for students who are excused from RI classes

The results of the survey will be collated and reported back to the school community in the newsletter.  Please remember that at this stage we are only gathering information from the school community. This means that the survey responses may not necessarily result in changes next year.

1.  Christian Religious Education Program (CRE)

At present the only form of religious instruction provided at [Insert the school’s name] is ‘Christian Religious Education’ provided by ACCESS ministries, which is DEECD’s contracted provider of Protestant Christian RI.  The program consists of one half-hour lesson each week for the majority of the school year.

Q.1.1 Do you have a child attending the current CRE program? Yes No
Q.1.2 Were you provided with sufficient advance information about the CRE program? Yes No
Q.1.3 Is the CRE program worth continuing for your child(ren)’s benefit? Yes No
Q.1.4 If “No”, is it worth continuing for the benefit of others in the school? Yes No

2.  Alternative Programs

Schools are permitted to provide RI programs in other religions if accredited volunteer instructors are available.

Non-religious programs, such as ethics or values based programs, are currently not available as an alternative to RI, as none have been approved by the State Government.  However an option could become available in the future.

The Act also permits schools to offer general religious education, which would cover the major forms of religious thought and expression characteristic of Australian society and other societies in the world. General religious education must be taught by teachers rather than external volunteers.

Q.2.1 Would you like to see an additional RI program offered in a religion other than Christianity? Yes No
Q.2.2 If “Yes”, which religion? ____________
Q.2.3 If a non-religious program such as an ethics or values based program were to become available as an alternative to RI, would you consider having your child(ren) participate? Yes No
Q.2.4 If a general religious education program were to be made available, would you be interested in having your child(ren) participate? Yes No

3.  Choice of Participation

Two different forms may be given to parents upon enrolment, GC 556 or CASES21. This school uses GC 556 [alternatively CASES21], with the following function.

The form GC 566 requests parents to nominate their choice of religious instruction for their child(ren). Failure to return the form, or an equivalent letter to the school, will result in the child(ren) being included by default in the ACCESS ministries program.

[The comprehensive form CASES21, version 2.06, simply asks whether the child(ren) will participate in religious instruction and what that religion will be. Failure to complete the question will result in the child(ren) being included by default in the ACCESS ministries program.]

At present, parents who do not wish their children to participate in RI have to expressly opt them out. The school is not permitted to teach ordinary lessons to students who are excused from RI, but only to “supervise” them. Currently, some excused students have to remain in the classroom where RI is in progress and engage in quiet reading or computer work.

Q.3.1 Would you prefer to advise the school only if your child will take RI (“opting in”)
or only if your child will not take RI (“opting out”)? [please encircle choice]
Q.3.2 Do you have a child who is currently excused from RI? Yes No
Q.3.3 Do you have any suggestions for meaningful alternative activities for excused students?
____________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________
Q.3.4 Would you like to make any other comments about RI?
____________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________

Thank you for your participation. Please return the completed form by [insert date], via your eldest child’s class teacher at the school.

Signed and dated.

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