All posts by Seb

Principals and Ministerial Direction MD141

Here in FIRIS-land we appreciate the lengths the Department of Education has gone to in handing greater autonomy to principals when it comes to making decisions about SRI, even if UJEB and ACCESS Ministries believe that principals are there to serve SRI providers and not students.

Because of Ministerial Direction 141 (MD141) principals now bear full responsibility for the decision to approve SRI.

If you’ve been paying attention you will know that principals can reject SRI if the school cannot meet the various resource requirements. Some scenarios are clearly spelled out in Clause 6(7) of MD141.

But tellingly, principals must ensure that information, ideas, opinions or beliefs communicated to students and written material distributed to students must not contradict the school’s values, curriculum, an applicable law, or Department policies or guidelines (Clause 10(1)).

What this means in practice is that every principal who approves ACCESS Ministries to conduct SRI at their school is saying that there is no contradiction between ACCESS Ministries’ material and the approved school curriculum, the school’s values, or DEECD policies or guidelines. 

This might include ideas such as biological evolution instead of creationism; inclusiveness instead of religious segregation; or ACCESS’ frequently-violated agreement with the DEECD not to proselytise. Or ACCESS volunteers’ contractual agreement not to present statements of belief as fact, an agreement that ACCESS Ministries’ “Religion in Life” SRI materials forces volunteers to contravene, to date with zero Departmental consequences except more annual grants to carry out more transgressions.

FIRIS would like to thank the Department of Education because when we showed you the two independent reviews of ACCESS Ministries curriculum, you listened.

When we showed you that the ACCESS Ministries material is “low level busy work” you heard. When we told you that there is already sufficient “values” education in AusVELS you made sure that any reasonable principal could reject SRI.

Indeed, many such reasonable principals have now exercised their educational judgment and professionalism to put their students first, and have canned SRI.

So what’s the principal’s excuse if they haven’t?

God save me from those who think I’m lost – THE AGE

Despite constitutional efforts to protect one’s freedom from religion, God and religion continues to be imposed on Australians who do not wish to receive Him.

The key changes relate to the switch from an “opt-out” to an “opt-in” arrangement, which requires parents to positively consent to their child receiving SRI. Principals can decide to cancel SRI based on low opt-in numbers or if they believe the programs go against the values of the school.

The changes have clearly unsettled Access Ministries, prompting the general manager of Christian Education and Training, Linda White to implore the audience to: “Embrace the opportunity we still have … to enhance our relevance.” And she added: “We live in a religious world.”

Supporters were also urged to pray for “Principals … that they would not daunted or dismayed by the challenges of the new Ministerial Direction”.

It is no wonder that Fairness in Religion in Schools – a parent-run, grassroots  group which has brought the teaching of religion in schools to public attention – has been approached by parents voicing their concerns about tactics used by certain state schools to get parents to sign the the opt in form.

READ THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE AT THE AGE (4 AUGUST 2014 BY secondary school teacher and writer Chris Fotinopoulos)


Illustration: Matt Golding
Illustration: Matt Golding

Kew Primary School ends religious instruction classes

Kew Primary School has told parents it will no longer run Special Religious Instruction classes.

Jacqui Tomlins, whose children attend the school, said the decision is a cause for celebration.

“It was something that had concerned me for a while and it concerned other parents too,” Ms Tomlins told 774 ABC Melbourne’s Richard Stubbs.

Ms Tomlins is in a same-sex relationship and has in her blog described Access Ministries as narrow, prejudiced and homophobic.


Read also  The Standard recent coverage for Allansford Primary School “Lack of interest cancels religious program at Allansford primary school” . 


FREE, COMPULSORY AND SECULAR – Peter Garrett, former Education Minister

This week, former Education Minister Bronwyn Pike, reversed her opinion about religion in schools. Now, former Minister of Education Peter Garrett, has done the same thing. FIRIS is feeling like the long slog making the argument that our secular education system is precious, has paid off.

Do you think there could be an outbreak of Higinbotham Awards?

In his recent review “Free, compulsory, and secular” of Prof. Maddox’s book “Taking God to School ”, Garrett says:

Taking God to School also focuses on the schools chaplains program initiated by the Howard government and continued and enlarged by the Rudd/Gillard governments. I became responsible for this program in 2010, and can confirm Maddox’s fear that the line between chaplains acting to support students in the provision of general pastoral care and proselytising was too easily crossed.

The program was voluntary both for schools and for students. It was also extremely popular, especially in the aftermath of natural disasters, such as the Queensland floods, where services were stretched and demands increased on schools to provide support for affected students. Nevertheless, the umbilical cord between churches with their mission to evangelise and chaplain providers who shared this same commitment required significant guideline changes to ensure chaplains did not overstep the mark.

The decision I took to open up the program to non-chaplains and lift the qualification requirements was based on concerns around this issue and some few cases of chaplains breaching existing guidelines. But I also wanted to widen the opportunities for non-religious support staff to come into schools and help students and teachers dealing with specific challenges that were holding back their learning, as was the case for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and for kids recently arrived from parts of the world mired in conflict. Again, the recent budget saw this decision reversed, which means that some schools and students will not get the kind of support they deserve, simply because they do not wish to embrace the chaplaincy model.

Read Garrett’s full “Free, compulsory, and secular” review of Maddox’s book and the media coverage here.

Access Ministries uses taxpayer money to threaten parents over religious teaching – THE AGE


A powerful Christian organisation has threatened a small grassroots parent group with legal action for posting its religious curriculum book online.

The main provider of religious instruction in state schools, Access Ministries, this week warned activists from Fairness in Religion in Schools (FIRIS) to remove a copy of its teaching materials from their website.

“Parents have never been able to know what is taught to their children in SRI classes, and Access has now taken steps to shut down the only way that parents could look at the books,” said campaign co-ordinator Lara Wood. “Access is using its taxpayer funds to sue a grassroots group run by ordinary mums and dads.”



2014.05.31.Christian group threatens parents - THE AGE

Victorian Department of Education to overhaul religious education after Access Ministries breach – ABC News

The way religion is taught in Victorian primary schools will be overhauled after a report found that volunteers from the state’s key provider Access Ministries breached its guidelines.

However, in a summary of the investigation the provider was found to be in breach of regulations:

“The content and distribution of the Biblezines is inconsistent with the relevant Volunteer Agreement and Team Leader’s Guide; the Education and Training Reform Act 2006; and the Department’s Schools Policy and Advisory Guide (SPAG), Supporting Sexual Diversity in Schools Policy and Human Resources Policy on Same-sex Attracted Employees.”


Schools to lose secular welfare staff under Christian chaplaincy drive – THE AGE


The group that provides chaplains and Christian religious instruction to Victorian schools expects a surge in demand after the federal government revealed plans to remove the option for schools to hire a non-religious welfare worker.

The latest financial statement from Access Ministries showed it was given $5.7 million by the federal government for the 2013 calendar year, compared with about $5 million for 2012.

Australian Education Union Victorian branch deputy president Justin Mullaly said the existing chaplaincy arrangements allowed schools to hire secular welfare staff. ”Often that was in the form of a social worker or psychologist,” he said. ”It allowed schools to get the professionals they needed.”

He said the union opposed the changes the federal government plans to introduce. Mr Mullaly said schools with students from diverse religious backgrounds could be disadvantaged if they were only able to hire religious chaplains who were mostly likely to represent a Christian faith.

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said she was astounded the federal government had given Access Ministries more than $5 million for 2013.

READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE AT GNN (29 MAY 2014 BY Benjamin Preiss and Ben Butler)


Former education minister calls for end to religious education – JOY 94.9 FM

This is by far the highest ranking endorsement to date!

The section starts at 49:30min, and right off the bat, former minister Pike has to bat back the “ethics” boogyman, which she does with aplomb and consistent with the FIRIS campaign.

Having a person of Minister Pike’s profile advocate for the FIRIS position is a huge validation of this campaign, which has been attacked by both the religious right, and atheist zombies for its pro-secular and non anti religious stance.

You access the article by Ben Rylan (10 May 2014) and have a read of the story as all the important quotes are pulled out in the text.

Here is the audio starting at 49:30min at the transcript in PDF format:

FIRIS will be asking for Minister Pike’s formal endorsement, way to go Bronwyn Pike!

Our schools don’t need more school chaplains. They need mental health professionals – President AEU, VIC

READ THE ARTICLE HERE (25 May 2014 by Meredith Peace, President, AEU Victoria)

Schools took a big hit in last week’s federal budget.

And yet, amid the savage $80 billion cut from education and health, there was one program the Abbott Government deemed worthy of increased support.

The National School Chaplaincy Program has attracted an extra $243.8 million in this year’s budget and is set to replace the existing School Welfare Program from the start of 2015.

To put it bluntly: Abbott has elected to support a cheap, faith-based program in place of genuine support and welfare in our schools.

For a government that claims to value “freedom” and “choice”, this government is prepared to restrict the options for principals and parents when it comes to choosing how kids’ wellbeing is supported at school.

Clearly, Education Minister Christopher Pyne is content with leaving control over schooling to the States – except where he sees an ideological opportunity.

In a move that severely undermines the secular tradition of public schools, principals will no longer be able to put this welfare funding toward professional psychologists or qualified counsellors, as was possible under the former Labor Government. Instead, only religious chaplains will now be eligible for Commonwealth support.

Meanwhile, Abbott has abandoned his commitment to implementing a needs-based schools funding model, leaving 100,000 students with disabilities without the additional resources required to meet their educational needs.

With schools reporting increasing rates of behavioural and learning difficulties, and a rise in social and emotional problems among our young people, can we really afford to hand over pastoral care to people who, though possibly well-intentioned, are not qualified to identify children in need of expert assessment and provide the appropriate intervention?

School counsellors are tertiary educated, usually with a specialisation in developmental psychology and mental health issues, and subject to a national registration scheme and a strict code of ethics.

While the Scripture Union — “a Christian organisation which works to make God’s Good News known to children” — acknowledges that there are prohibitions on proselytizing, it claims that attending to a child’s “spiritual wellbeing” is central to its welfare role in schools.

According to Peter James, CEO of the Scripture Union of QLD, welfare issues “touch on issues of spirituality and that’s where a chaplain has an extra tool in his or her bag”.

So what if that person is a teenage girl deciding whether or not to start taking contraception? Or a Grade 6 boy who finds he’s attracted to his male friends?

What if the wellbeing of a child is informed by their non-Christian faith, or indeed by their secular values?

meredith 290x385 Our schools dont need more school chaplains. They need mental health professionals.

Meredith is the AEU Victorian Branch President (previously a science teacher!)



Chaplaincy program to fund groups with links to homophobia
Several organisations running chaplaincy programs in Australian schools have connections to homophobic campaigning and will benefit from the funding allocated in the Government’s proposed budget, MCV has revealed.

Tony Abbott’s Coalition has allocated nearly $250 million to Chaplaincy Programs over four years in the latest budget, which offers schools up to $24,000 per year to pay for a chaplain approximately two days a week.

ACCESS Ministries is one of the providers of chaplains in Victoria, providing approximately 330 schools with Special Religious Instructors, and came under scrutiny in February when it was revealed one of their educators was distributing homophobic materials.

Students at Torquay College were handed brochures that instructed children to seek counselling if they had homosexual feelings. The Victorian Education Department then conducted an investigation into the incident after stating the action was “inappropriate and offensive”.

A spokesperson from the Victorian Education Department told MCV, “the investigation has now been completed and we are in the process of gaining a right of reply from Access Ministries”.

Acting CEO of ACCESS Ministries, Dawn Penney, said the organisation represents 12 mainstream Churches which all hold their own views on the matter of homosexuality.

“The ACCESS ministries CRE (Christian Religious Education) program and materials do not stray into areas of sexuality, none of our approved material mentions this subject” she told MCV.

Former Victorian State Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Rob Ward, is now the General Manager of Development and Communications at ACCESS Ministries, and has campaigned against same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption.

In 2011 in response to the launch of the “Fair go, sport!” program, a program aimed at increasing awareness of sexual and gender diversity in sport, Ward said:

“The suggestion that the aim is to have the sexual orientation of gay, lesbian and transgender sportspeople…so public that it’s normal, so people don’t think about it is very troubling.”

Darren McMahon is the Director and Presenter of Your Dream Incorporated in Sydney and runs chaplaincy programs through NSW, and has significant ties to Hillsong Church.

Hillsong Church has had a controversial history with the gay community regarding their involvement with the now dismantled Mercy Ministries and the recently abolished Living Waters Australia, which ran ex-gay and conversion camps.

McMahon graduated from the Hillsong International Leadership College in 1993, and has been an avid “friend” of the Church ever since.

Although McMahon was unaware of the acronym LGBTI, he told MCV he “doesn’t and has never discriminated against anyone’s life choices.” He also said he is unsure if any of his youth workers have had any training in how to deal with young LGBTI and questioning youth.

LGBTI activists are also questioning the qualifications of chaplaincy workers in dealing with same-sex attracted youth. It is understood that the training can be as little as a five-day intensive course in ‘Chaplaincy Essentials’ and is all that is required by some chaplain organisations.

Studies on LGBTI youth have consistently shown that they have higher rates of suicide and depression than their heterosexual counterparts and Jacqui Tomlins, a founding member of the Australian Equality Party and parent of three, told MCV she was appalled at the allocation of funds to the Chaplaincy Program.

“Young people – especially those who might be questioning their sexuality or sexual identity, need access to good, non-judgemental counsellors who can provide advice and guidance that is not based on any religious foundation.

“Likewise, when my kids are in high school I want to be confident that their same-sex family will be treated with the same regard and respect as any other family.

“While I’m sure some individual chaplains may provide non-judgemental support, it makes far greater sense to employ trained, secular social workers or counsellors whose guidance does not stem from a religious system that can, and often does, treat us and our families with disrespect or contempt,” she said.

The funding is a continuation of the Chaplaincy Scheme introduced by John Howard, but the Abbott Government has changed back the conditions to prevent School Principals from being able to elect a secular student welfare worker instead of a chaplain.

Defending the decision to not allow non-religious student welfare workers to access funding, which was possible under the previous Labor Government, Education Minister Christopher Pyne told The Guardian, “counsellors and social workers in schools are really the responsibility of the states and territories.”

In response, Federal President of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, noted:

“Where does the Australian constitution say that the Federal Government is responsible for school chaplains?”

In the same article, Opposition Education Spokeswoman, Kate Ellis, said it was wrong for the government to direct funding only to chaplains who had a “direct link to organised religion”.

At the time of going to print MCV was yet to hear back from the Department of Education.