Rebecca Hack, Former school principal
THE LAST full review into religious instruction (RI), conducted back in the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era, said that it was "at variance with the educational role of the State School in a contemporary society". It is really concerning that we are still doing the same thing almost 50 years later, using legislation that has been unchanged since 1910.
The materials taught by the RI instructors are beyond my control as principal. They are written and self-governed by the RI groups. We can only check the providers are approved by a religious minister and have a blue card.
Even if we did check the written program, we wouldn’t have any way of enforcing how the instructor implements this program or how they are trained. And there are no guidelines given to us to assess if the programs are appropriate
We have to rearrange all our classes so that RI can occur. This is very disruptive for young students, and we often experience increases in behaviour incidents during RI. Teachers have to sit in the classrooms and try to manage this.
Questions by RI providers in recent weeks about the accuracy of the OneSchool database, where RI permissions for every student are recorded, should also be put to bed. The Department of Education policy on RI clearly states "all written notifications from parents must be recorded on OneSchool." This year, only 36 per cent of kids at Berserker St State School were given permission by their parents or carers to do RI.
We are required to use OneSchool to record whether a student has permission for RI when they enrol and to update this record any time a parent changes this in writing. This data indicates parents of only around 25 to 30 per cent of children have opted into RI, which means up to three quarters of all students have to stop learning to allow RI to occur for the other quarter.
We are not allowed to deliver instruction while RI is taking place. So not only do we lose valuable teaching time but the 75 per cent of students who are sitting in classrooms not allowed to continue with their schooling in order that their classmate can do RI.
Our Australian curriculum is already overcrowded and teachers are struggling to fit everything they need to do in the precious time they have. The RI legislation requires us to take up to an hour away from them for this program to occur, even though 75 per cent of students are not participating. Teachers have to come up with something for the non-participating students to go on with that is not related in any way to the curriculum, increasing their workload yet again.
Society has changed in the century since this legislation was written. We need to move Religious Instruction outside of class time and we need an urgent review.