Special Religious Instruction – a statement from the teaching profession.
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The policy of ‘Special Religious Instruction’ (SRI), as legislated in the 1950s era Victorian Education Act, is an outdated and flawed model of segregated, unaccountable and unprofessional religious instruction, which caters to the interests of religious organisations and not the needs of students, teachers, educators or families.
Under the system as it stands:
- State government schools must allow non-teacher volunteers from religious organisations into classrooms to instruct students on a weekly basis and the teaching program must be disrupted for SRI to take place.
- Students who do not participate in SRI are barred from completing any meaningful learning.
- Schools have no option over whether or not SRI is delivered. School principals and school councils must put the wishes of their communities aside and allow religious volunteers into classrooms each week, irrespective of how many students’ parents elect for them to participate.
- Students are segregated according to religious belief. Such segregation contributes to stereotyping and suspicion of minorities and risks promoting religious exclusion as an accepted norm.
- Respect for religious and cultural diversity is not fostered.
- Valuable class time is taken up to enable the delivery of SRI. Against the backdrop of a crowded curriculum and a new Australian Curriculum that makes no mention of SRI, we argue that this is a waste of students’ precious learning time.
- The separation between church and state – a central tenet of Australia’s democracy – is not upheld under the current model.
This system needs to change and the current legislation must be amended.
The 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians made a clear commitment ‘to nurture an appreciation of and respect for religious diversity’. It is time public education clearly stepped up to that commitment and ended discrimination and segregation in our state schools and promoting cultural diversity instead.
In place of current SRI legislation, we believe that the general approach to values education currently taught by university prepared and accredited teachers in schools already promotes both social inclusion and intercultural understanding that meets the needs of all children and families. Families are in the best position to provide specific religious education and guidance of and for their children either in the home or through special after school organisations.
The secular principle in public education is and remains an indispensible foundation of public education. As stated in the Education Act (2006) guiding principles, the Government will “provide a secular education and will not promote any particular religious practice, denomination or sect”. 
Australian government school students are participating in an outdated model of SRI, which presents children with a singular, and in many cases, an exclusivist faith perspective, that is at odds with Australian state and federal governments’ commitment to promoting a socially inclusive society. The Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union has called for the removal of SRI in a special resolution, arguing that it should occur only outside school hours and be provided on a voluntary basis. 
We the undersigned call on the Australian Council of Deans of Education to demonstrate leadership on this important education issue by supporting the secular principle and the removal of the exceptions legislated in support of SRI in our schools today.
 Principles underlying the government education and training system 1.2.2 p. 13
If you wish to add your name to the statement above please email David Zyngier firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr David Zyngier
Senior Lecturer in Curriculum & Pedagogy
Student Advisor (Peninsula Years 1-3)
Faculty of Education