Purpose of this policy
To set out the requirements regarding the provision of Special Religious Instruction with which schools must comply from 14 July 2014 under Ministerial Direction MD141.
Principals must ensure that the Department's policy requirements and procedural advice is met. The following lists the range of advice provided about the delivery of Special Religious Instruction (SRI).
All providers of education must ensure that their programs and teaching are delivered in a manner that supports and promotes the principles and practice of Australian democracy, including a commitment to freedom of religion, speech and association (section 1.2.1 of the Act).
Education in government schools must be secular and must not promote any particular religious practice, denomination or sect. This does not prevent the inclusion of general religious education in the curriculum of a government school. General religious education is defined as: “education about major forms of religious thought and expression characteristic of Australian society and other societies in the world.” (Section 2.2.10 of the Act).
A Government school teacher must not provide religious instruction other than the provision of general purpose religious education in any government school building (section 2.2.10. (3) of the Act).
Nothing in section 2.2.11 prevents Government school buildings from being used for any purpose on days other than school days or at hours on school days other than the hours set apart for the instruction of the students. Any use of Government school buildings needs to take into account general obligations, for example, duty of care.
Special religious instruction (SRI)
The only exception to secular education in government schools is special religious instruction which may be given in a government school during the hours of instruction in accordance with section 2.2.11 of the Act. This section sets out a number of requirements regarding the delivery of SRI.
Special religious instruction is defined as: “instruction provided by churches and other religious groups and based on distinctive religious tenets and beliefs.”
Freedom of religion
Students and teachers have the rights to freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression and freedom of association under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.
Students can organise and participate in voluntary religious activities outside of the school program as they are not part of the curriculum provided by the State in government schools. Such activities cannot be promoted by the school.
On 1 May 2014 the Minister for Education issued a Ministerial Direction (MD141) to provide further direction to schools in relation to SRI. This Direction commenced on 14 July 2014. This means that all schools and principals must comply with MD141 from the start of Term 3, 2014. In accordance with this Direction:
“If a principal receives notification from an accredited and approved instructor that the instructor is available to deliver special religious instruction at the school the principal must offer parents of children enrolled at the school the opportunity for their children to be provided with special religious instruction.”
If a principal has received notification from an accredited and approved instructor that they are available to deliver SRI at the school they should request the volunteer provide information to enable the principal to seek informed consent from parents, including:
- the instructor’s name
- details of their accreditation and approval
- the instructor’s religious affiliations
- an overview of the program to be taught by the instructor
- any other information the principal requires in order to comply with their obligations.
Once the principal has sufficient information from the accredited and approved instructor, they must provide the opportunity to parents to indicate whether they would like their child to participate in SRI in a particular religion using the prescribed consent form (CFMD141).
If SRI is offered at a school during the hours set apart for instruction, principals must ensure that it is:
- scheduled as part of the school timetable
- on the basis of normal class organisation (unless some other basis has been authorised by the Minister)
- for no more than an average of 30 minutes per week.
To meet the school’s duty of care obligations, scheduling decisions must take into account the need to provide adequate supervision of both the students who are participating in SRI and those who are not. Students should not be placed in corridors or other spaces that are not generally used for learning.
Where a school wishes that an SRI volunteer conduct SRI for a pageant, special event or a celebration of a festival in a school in a grouping that is not the usual class organisation or grouping (e.g. a multi-age group of students), authorisation is required from the Minister. Only SRI students (whose parents have completed, signed and returned the consent form) can attend such SRI classes or events. See: SRI Parent Consent form (CFMD141) (pdf - 88.59kb)
Celebrations and cultural events which do not involve instruction in the tenets and beliefs of a particular religion do not require the authorisation of the Minister and should not be conducted by SRI volunteers. Students may be taught about a religious celebration, festival, special event etc., as part of the general religious education curriculum at a school by government school teachers. This may include recognition of and educational activities relating to key religious celebrations such as Christmas, Eid, Hanukkah and others. The conduct of general religious education classes or events may or may not include on occasion, guest speakers who are representatives of a particular faith to explain the workings and belief structure of their religion but those speakers must not otherwise provide instruction in their religion and must not promote the religion. They must be supervised by a teacher at all times.
Attendance at SRI
SRI is not compulsory for any student. Principals must obtain written parental advice via the prescribed form – CFMD141 – for their child to participate in SRI. No other consent form can be used for this purpose. New forms must be issued for any SRI proposed to occur in Terms 3 and 4, 2014, again for the beginning of the 2015 school year, and following this, forms must be issued whenever a school is approached by an SRI volunteer seeking to deliver SRI and at least annually in a school that offers SRI, see: SRI Parent Consent Form (CFMD141) (pdf - 88.59kb)
CFMD141 must be used because it contains all the information required by MD141 to be provided to parents to obtain informed consent. If a parent does not provide written notification of a child’s participation in SRI, including ticking both boxes on the consent form, within the timeframe requested by the principal or specified in the form, the child must not participate in SRI.
Principals must seek written advice from parents as to whether their child will participate in SRI:
- at least once per calendar year in a school that offers SRI
- when SRI in a particular religion is introduced into a school for the first time and
- if a different religion is to be offered at the school to the religion/s currently being offered.
Note: That the school enrolment form does not provide any opportunity for parents to provide consent for their child’s participation in SRI – the prescribed CFMD141 consent form must be used for this purpose.
Principals must ensure that parents give informed consent and are provided with the following information in relation to the provision of SRI in a school:
- what type of SRI is offered or provided at the school
- how long SRI sessions run for and whether they run all year, for one term only or for some other specified period
- an overview of the program to be provided by the accredited instructor on an annual basis
- how a parent may access the full SRI program overview online
- the name of the accredited and approved instructor who will deliver SRI, which provider they have been accredited through, and the instructor's religious affiliations, and
- that they may withdraw their child from SRI at any time by notifying the school in writing.
Principals must ensure, by consulting with the Department, that only accredited instructors, approved by the Minister, provide SRI at a Government school.
Accredited SRI instructors are volunteers with a religious affiliation, who have received training from an approved provider and are auspiced by a specific church or religious organisation. Accredited instructors have undertaken training through their accredited provider which includes how to undertake their role in Government schools, focusing on the code of conduct that instructors are required to sign up to prior to receiving accreditation. This Code of Conduct requires volunteers to follow certain Departmental policy.
Providers approved to accredit instructors must ensure that instructors:
- are registered with the Provider
- obtain a Working With Children Check (WWCC) and maintain a valid WWCC
- undertake regular training
- comply with minimum suitability standards for persons who work or volunteer with children
- sign up to a Code of Conduct established by the Department and
- receive Ministerial approval.
Instructors cannot commence instruction until they have received a WWCC card (an application is not sufficient).
A copy of the instructor's formal accreditation must be retained on the school's records. This accreditation includes a WWCC and principals must retain a copy of the instructor’s Working WWCC details on the school’s records.
Principals must ensure that each accredited instructor delivering SRI in a school complies with the school’s volunteer and visitors to schools policies. See: Volunteer Checks
Instructors must be supervised by a teacher at all times. The principal is responsible for reporting any instructor behaviour that does not meet the requirements under the Code of Conduct.
The following provider are able to accredit instructors to deliver SRI:
Principals must ensure that SRI instructors are accredited by one of these agencies. Representatives of churches or other religious organisations who are not accredited by one of these agencies must not deliver SRI in schools.
Should a parent request SRI in a religion that is not available at the school, the principal should advise that such instruction can only be scheduled if an accredited instructor from an accredited provider approved by the Minister becomes available, and if the school has sufficient resources to ensure supervision/duty of care obligations can be met.
Procedures for accredited providers and processes through which providers can apply to accredit SRI instructors will be available from 1 January 2015.
SRI Program and materials
Content of programs
SRI is instruction in the specific religious beliefs and tenets of a religion, and is not to be confused with general religious education (GRE). GRE is education about religions (which may or may not include utilising representatives of a particular faith to explain the workings and belief structure of their religion), whereas SRI programs are instruction in a particular religion and may include scriptural studies, and instruction in how to live and behave according to the tenets of the particular faith.
Each accredited provider prepares its own program materials for use during SRI. Given the religious nature of the content, the Department does not endorse such materials.
Note: The Department will play a role in determining minimum standards for program content that SRI providers will be required to comply with, to ensure program content does not conflict with human rights and anti-discrimination laws, or principles in the Act. This policy will be updated and principals and parents advised when this process is implemented following further discussions with SRI providers.
Parents or school staff wishing to view the material used by agencies should view the materials online or contact the school or the provider providing SRI.
Principals must ensure that the SRI volunteers in their school delivers the program materials that are approved by the instructor’s provider and that are available for parents to access in an online format. Any concerns about the content of the provider-approved material delivered at a particular school should be directed to the principal. The principal will contact the provider who has accredited the SRI volunteer in the school, or the Department’s central Wellbeing, Health and Engagement Division to address the complaint. See: Concerns/Complaints.
Principals must ensure that any information, ideas, opinions or beliefs communicated to students or any written material distributed to students by an SRI provider or instructor does not contradict the school’s values, school curriculum or any other applicable law. The Act (s 1.2.1(a)) contains guidance in relation to overarching principles for all schools:
(1) all providers of education and training, both Government and non-Government, must ensure that their programs and teaching are delivered in a manner that supports and promotes the principles and practice of Australian democracy, including a commitment to—
(i) elected Government;
(ii) the rule of law;
(iii) equal rights for all before the law;(iv) freedom of religion;
(v) freedom of speech and association;
(vi) the values of openness and tolerance.
SRI program materials must not be referred to as ‘curriculum’, as SRI is an extra-curricular activity. For further information, see: Terminology
Charging for SRI
Instructors may charge a fee to students participating in SRI. This fee can include the cost of materials or program. This fee cannot be charged prior to consent having been sought from parents using CFMD141.
Principals must ensure that an accredited instructor does not:
provide or offer to students who attend SRI any enticement or other benefit of a tangible nature,
induce or attempt to induce any student to convert to a particular religion
invite or encourage any student to attend religious events held outside of school.
Teachers are required to supervise SRI sessions and fulfil their duty of care obligations. Teachers should be made aware of guidelines and policy relating to SRI, and the distinct difference between SRI and general religious education.
A teacher who is responsible for the supervision of SRI must report any concern he or she has about the delivery, provision or content of SRI to the principal, as soon as it is practicable. For example, if a teacher believes that the content of SRI conflicts in some way with a Department policy (for example, regarding diversity) 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 from a duty of care perspective, the teacher must report that to the principal.
The principal is required to ensure that students not participating in SRI are adequately supervised by a teacher.
Arrangements for students not attending SRI
Anti-discrimination laws require that students who do not attend SRI must not be treated less or more favourably than students who participate in SRI. Students who do not attend SRI must be adequately supervised by a teacher (see Legislative Framework section above) and engaged in educationally valuable activities at the time that SRI is being provided to the students who are opted-in. This may include self-study, revision, reading, community service, peer mentoring and participation in clubs.
A principal must ensure that students who do not attend SRI must not be provided with instruction in areas within the Australian Curriculum in Victoria (AusVELS) while other students are participating in SRI.
SRI should not be confused with general religious education which has a specific definition in the Act. Where volunteers from churches and other religious groups deliver instruction in the tenets and beliefs of a particular religion, this must be referred to as ‘special religious instruction’.
Principals and SRI providers must ensure that SRI volunteers are not referred to as ‘teachers’ but as ‘instructors’ in order to ensure no confusion as to their role. Note: the Department acknowledges that some instructors may have teaching qualifications and/or VIT registration, however in their role as an SRI instructor volunteers may not be referred to as ‘teachers’.
Materials used for the delivery of SRI must not be referred to as ‘curriculum’ (or any derivation thereof). SRI is an extra-curricular activity, and materials used in SRI sessions may only be referred to as ‘materials’, ‘program materials’, or any term other than ‘curriculum’ which makes clear to parents that the activity is not part of the school’s curriculum.
Other religious activity
Government schools will provide a secular education and not promote any particular religious practice, denomination or sect; be open to adherents of any philosophy, religion or faith (section 1.2.2 of the Act) and must support and promote freedom of religion, speech and association (section 1.2.1 of the Act). Education in government schools must be secular and not promote any particular religious denomination or sect (section 2.2.10 of the Act). This does not prohibit the voluntary activities of students outside the school program as they are not part of the curriculum provided by the State.
Subject to the above principles, nothing in the Act, MD141 or this policy prevents:
(a) recognised sacred texts being displayed or distributed at school.
(b) students displaying and distributing material that has the effect of promoting any particular religious practice, including religious books, music, DVD’s etc.
(c) students from establishing and meeting (outside the hours set aside for instruction) in groups which promote a particular religion, such as prayer groups, youth groups, clubs, information sessions, or workshops, or from advertising such groups.
(d) outside speakers or facilitators from visiting such groups on the same basis that applies to other non-religious student groups. Principals should refer to the Department’s policy on developing a Visitors Policy. See: Visitors in Schools.
(e) students engaging in individual or group prayer during school hours, where it is in accordance with the requirements of their religion.
(f) students dressing in accordance with the requirements of their faith. Principals should refer to the Department’s policies on Developing and Reviewing Dress Codes and Dress Code Exemptions, which promote an inclusive approach to religious diversity, for guidance on how to accommodate religious requirements within a school’s dress code. See: Developing and Reviewing Dress Codes, Dress Code Exemptions
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 Parent Complaints policy.
The Principal will contact the provider who has accredited the SRI volunteer in the school, or the Department’s central Wellbeing, Health and Engagement Division to address the concern or complaint. See: Parent Complaints