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Special Religious Instruction

Policy

This policy sets out requirements for the delivery of Special Religious Instruction in Victorian government schools 

Summary

  • Government schools are secular and must not promote any particular religious practice, denomination or sect and must be open to adherents of any philosophy, religion or faith.
  • If Special Religious Instruction is offered, it must operate as an opt in extra-curricular activity that students may only attend with parental consent.
  • Schools may only offer Special Religious Instruction to students outside of class time for a maximum of 30 minutes per week during lunchtime or in the hour before or after school.
  • Special Religious Instruction can only be provided by instructors accredited by a provider and approved by the Department.
  • All Special Religious Instruction activities must be supervised by a school teacher.

Details

Government schools are secular

Government school education in Victoria is secular. Government schools must not promote any particular religious practice, denomination or sect and must be open to adherence of any philosophy, religion or faith. All school staff, contractors, volunteers and visitors must abide by this overarching principle of secularity.

Special Religious Instruction 

The only exception in the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) to students receiving a secular education in government schools is non-compulsory Special Religious Instruction (SRI). SRI is 'instruction provided by churches and other religious groups and based on distinctive religious tenets and beliefs'.

SRI differs from general religious education taught by government school teachers as part of the curriculum. Students may be taught about and acknowledge religious celebrations or festivals. Refer to the General religious education section below for more information.

Principals must examine the content of any program proposed to be delivered by visitors to schools to decide whether the content is based in the religious tenets and beliefs of a particular religion and so falls within the SRI policy.  Examples include prayer groups, scripture study groups and lunchtime praise groups where these are facilitated, lead or instructed by a visitor or an external group. It does not include before or after school groups hiring school facilities to operate their own cultural or religious groups independent of the school.

Deciding whether to offer SRI

Principals can make decisions regarding SRI in their schools. Principals may decide to offer or not to offer, to change the time or to cease offering SRI based on the circumstances of their school.

Principals must not have regard to their own personal views about religion or their personal religious beliefs or practices in making a decision to offer or not to offer, or cease offering SRI.

When deciding whether to offer SRI, it is recommended that principals keep a record of their decision-making process and reasons. The Department's SRI decision-making template can be used for this purpose.

In making the decision, it is recommended that principals consider:

  • level of demand by parents for SRI to be delivered at the school
  • availability of teaching staff to appropriately supervise the delivery of the program
  • availability of an accredited and approved instructor to deliver the program
  • availability of school funds to employ casual relief teachers, if required, to provide supervision
  • availability of an appropriate space in which SRI may be delivered at the times an instructor is available
  • timetabling of any other extra-curricular activities
  • views of the school council
  • views of the school community and
  • any other matters the principal considers relevant in the particular circumstances

Principals may consider some or all of the considerations listed, depending on the circumstances of their school.

The principal may consider publishing a notice in the school newsletter to provide an opportunity for feedback prior to making a decision about offering or continuing to offer the SRI program.

Offering SRI

If SRI is offered at the school:

  • only program materials approved by the instructor’s accredited provider and available for parents to access online can be used as part of SRI
  • SRI instructors are visitors to schools and must comply with the Department’s policies on Volunteers in Schools and Visitors in Schools
  • students who attend SRI must not be offered any enticement or other benefit of a tangible nature
  • SRI instructors must not attempt to convert students to a particular religion or invite students to attend activities outside of SRI

Parental consent

SRI is not compulsory for any student. Parental consent must be obtained before a student attends SRI using the prescribed Special Religious Instruction — Parent Consent Form. It is also available in a variety of community languages, see the Resources tab.

Principals must provide parents with the following information when seeking parental consent for SRI:

  • the religion(s) in which SRI is being offered at the school
  • the session times and whether they run all year, for one term only or for some other specified period
  • the age grouping for students at the session(s)
  • an overview of the program (provided by the accredited instructor)
  • how a parent may access the program materials online
  • the name of the accredited instructor who will deliver the session(s) and the name of the provider they have been accredited through
  • that they may withdraw their child from SRI at any time by notifying the school

Scheduling

The principal must ensure students do not attend SRI for more than 30 minutes per week and that SRI is offered either at lunchtime or in the hour before or the hour after school.

The 30 minute maximum applies to a student’s attendance at SRI rather than the total amount of SRI that a school may offer. Not all instruction offered at the school must occur during the same 30 minute interval. For example, large schools with a high number of students attending SRI may choose to offer SRI for different year levels at lunchtime on different days, while a school with smaller numbers may choose one multi-age group at lunchtime,  once a week. Schools offering SRI in more than one faith may also choose to schedule those on different days and at different times.

Instructors

Principals must ensure that only accredited instructors provide SRI at a government school, by emailing the Department’s Wellbeing, Health and Engagement Division.

SRI providers must ensure the instructors they accredit meet certain requirements. Instructors must:

  • have a valid Working with Children Check (WWC Check) 
  • undertake regular training
  • meet minimum suitability standards for persons who work or volunteer with children
  • sign up to a Code of Conduct established by the Department
  • understand relevant Victorian legislation, Department and school policies
  • receive approval to provide SRI in a government school

Principals must ensure:

  • the instructor is not a government school teacher
  • instructors are accredited by an approved provider
  • a copy of the instructor's formal accreditation including WWC Check is retained on the school's records
  • instructors do not continue to instruct if their WWC Check card has expired
  • instructors comply with the school’s volunteer and visitors to schools policies
  • instructors are supervised by a school teacher at all times
  • any instructor conduct that does not meet the requirements of the Code of Conduct or this policy is reported to the Department’s Wellbeing, Health and Engagement Division as soon as practicable

Principals and SRI providers must ensure SRI instructors are not referred to as ‘teachers’ but as ‘instructors’ to avoid confusion about their role. This includes instructors who may have a teaching qualification or Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) registration, as they are at the school in their role as an SRI instructor, which is a volunteer, not as a teacher.

Providers

The following providers are able to accredit instructors to deliver SRI:

Program and materials

Each SRI provider prepares its own program materials for use during SRI. Materials must not be referred to as ‘curriculum’ and may only be referred to as ‘materials’ or ‘program materials’ as SRI is an extra-curricular activity.

Given the religious nature of the content, the Department does not endorse the program materials that providers may use. However, the Department does determine minimum standards for content of the program materials to ensure it does not conflict with human rights and anti-discrimination laws, or principles of law.

Parents or school staff wishing to view the materials used by agencies should view them online or contact the school or the SRI instructor’s provider.

Principals must ensure the SRI instructors in their school deliver only the program materials that are approved by the instructor’s provider and are available for parents to access online.

Principals must also ensure SRI programs support schools to be safe places for all students, irrespective of their family and cultural background, sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

Principals must ensure that any SRI program is delivered in a manner that supports and promotes the principles and practices of Australian democracy including a commitment to:

  • elected Government
  • the rule of law
  • equal rights for all before the law
  • freedom of religion
  • freedom of speech and association
  • the values of openness and tolerance

Any concerns about the content of the provider-approved material delivered at a particular school should be directed to the principal. The principal must email the Department's Wellbeing, Health and Engagement Division to report the complaint.

Charging for SRI

SRI instructors may charge a fee to participating students. This fee can include the cost of materials or program. This fee cannot be charged prior to seeking parental consent for students to participate. Schools may assist instructors to collect this fee and recoup the cost from parents, but schools must not meet the costs of SRI materials.

Supervision

Principals must ensure that SRI is adequately supervised by at least one teacher and must ensure that students are not removed from school grounds by SRI instructors.

School teachers are required to supervise SRI and fulfil their duty of care obligations. Refer to the Department's policy on Duty of Care for more information. Teachers need to be aware of guidelines and policy relating to SRI and the difference between SRI and general religious education.

A teacher who is responsible for the supervision of SRI must report any concern about the delivery or content of the SRI program to the principal as soon as practicable. For example, if a teacher believes that the content of the program conflicts in some way with a Department policy (such as the LGBTIQ Student Support Policy), they must report that concern to the principal. Similarly, if a supervising teacher believes that the content or nature of any SRI class raises concerns about a student or students’ safety or wellbeing, the teacher must notify the principal.

Freedom of religion

Students and teachers have the right to hold their own spiritual beliefs and to practice their religion.

These rights to freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression and freedom of association are protected under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic). Students and teachers also have responsibilities under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) which prohibits behaviour that incites or encourages hatred, serious contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule against another person or group of people because of their religion or belief.

Further information about religious rights and responsibilities can be found on the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission website or by calling 1300 292 153.

Ministerial Direction 145 does not stop students from expressing their faith. For example, students may engage in individual or group prayer during school hours or break times, where this is part of their religion. However, student prayer, religious study groups or religious youth groups cannot be led, conducted or instructed by a teacher, staff member or visitors or volunteers outside of SRI. Students may also dress in accordance with their faith and their school dress code. The Department’s policies promote an inclusive approach to religious diversity, refer to Student Dress Code.

Students can organise and participate in voluntary religious activities outside of the school program. Such activities cannot be promoted by the school.

Parent concerns and complaints

Parents who want to raise a concern or make a complaint related to the provision of SRI should discuss the matter with the principal in the first instance, in accordance with the Department’s Complaints — Parents Policy

General religious education

SRI differs from general religious education taught by government school teachers as part of the curriculum.

A secular education still includes education about world faiths. Learning about religions is part of the Victorian Curriculum. It provides information to students about world faiths and secular belief structures, which enables them to understand the world around them, display tolerance and respect towards people from all cultures and build strong and respectful relationships.

All education providers must ensure that their programs and teachings are delivered in a manner that supports and promotes the principles and practice of democracy, including a commitment to freedom of religion, speech and association. Government school teachers must not provide teaching in religion other than general religious education.

As part of the general religious education curriculum provided by government school teachers, students may be taught about, and acknowledge, religious celebrations or festivals. This may include recognition of, and educational activities relating to, key religious celebrations such as Christmas, Eid al-Adha or Hanukkah. General religious education classes or events may include guest speakers who are representatives of a particular faith to explain the workings and belief structures of their religion. However, the guest speakers must not provide instruction in their religion or promote the religion.

School celebrations and cultural events that are part of general religious education rather than SRI must be led by teaching staff. SRI instructors may be guests or guest speakers at general religious education events, however, the instructor must not lead the event and must understand that as guests they must not provide instruction in (as opposed to general information about) their religion and must not promote the religion. They must comply with the Department’s policies on Volunteers and Visitors in Schools.  

The principle of secularity does not prevent school councils from hiring and licensing school facilities where they are not required for ordinary school purposes and are to be used for recreational, sporting or cultural activities outside of school hours which are not part of the school program. The Community Use of Schools Policy provides further information on the use of school facilities.

Relevant legislation

Department policy on the requirements for the delivery of Special Religious Instruction in schools

Reviewed 26 February 2021

Policy last updated

15 June 2020

Scope

  • Schools

Contact

Manager, Wellbeing Workforces and Child Safety Unit

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