Special Religious Instruction
– a statement from the teaching profession.
The policy of ‘Special
Religious Instruction’ (SRI)*, currently enacted through differing state
Education statutes across Australia, is an outdated and flawed model of segregated,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
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.
In most Australian states, students who do not participate in SRI are barred
from completing any meaningful learning. The NSW
‘Ethics’ alternative is still an unprofessional and segregatory option.
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.
segregated according to religious belief. Such segregation contributes to
stereotyping and suspicion of minorities and risks promoting religious
exclusion as an accepted norm.
religious and cultural diversity is not fostered.
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.
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 focused
on promoting cultural diversity instead.
In place of current SRI
legislation, we believe that the general approach to values and ethics education currently taught by university prepared and
accredited teachers in schools already promotes both social inclusion and
intercultural understanding that will best meet 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
* Some states refer to ‘SRI’ as Special
Religious Education (SRE).