Principals call for option to move RI outside class hours in QLD public schools

Si Gladman / 12 June 2023

Declining participation rates in Religious Instruction classes and the overcrowding of the curriculum in Queensland public schools necessitates reform of RI, the head of the state’s peak body for principals says.

On Friday, Pat Murphy (pictured), the president of Queensland Association of State School Principals (QASSP), told ABC Brisbane that his association had long advocated for the state government to give schools the option of moving RI to out-of-school hours.

Mr Murphy said participation rates had dropped across a number of schools – including to as low as 15 per cent in some schools. While children with permission are taking part in RI for up to one hour each week, all other students are not allowed to continue with normal learning. 

“That’s created some issues for us around supervision, around continuity of learning,” he said.

“So what we’re asking for is that we could be able to offer Religious Instruction classes before school, lunchtimes, after school – just to as we do instrumental practice for our bands and our choirs, and also our sporting  practice – so that students get to opt in to those classes, parents get to opt in, but we’re also able to cater for full range of the curriculum.

“The other thing is that our curriculum has become so much more overcrowded … that we really are struggling to fit in all of the things we need to teach.”

The ABC Morning program (listen to the full broadcast here) also fielded a number of calls from parents, including ‘Kelly’ from Enoggera who told about how she “rapidly” withdrew her children from RI after reviewing teaching materials.

Another parent said her daughter came home “quite distressed” after other children told her she needed to “believe in God so she can go to heaven when she dies”.

Despite opposition to RI by a number of Labor MPs, by Labor Party members, parents and associations representing principals and teachers, education minister Grace Grace is refusing to reform RI.

In an email to the Rationalist Society of Australia last week (see below), Minister Grace’s senior policy advisor Tim Shipstone said there were “currently no changes, nor a review planned” to laws that allow the delivery of RI during school hours.

In March, RSA president Meredith Doig wrote to Minister Grace to ask for a review of the program following the media storm over Citipointe Church missionaries who labelled RI as a “mission field” to “harvest hundreds” and “make disciples” for the Lord.

Speaking on ABC Radio on Friday, Karen Grenning, the chair of the Queensland Christian Religious Instruction Network, warned that moving RI out of class hours would end the program.

“If we want a holistic education, then it’s very important that faith stays in curriculum time. We know what happened when it was moved out of curriculum time in Victoria. Effectively, it was the end of the program.”

In February this year, The Age reported that participation in Victoria’s scripture program had collapsed since it moved to out-of-class hours.

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Response from Tim Shipstone, Senior Policy Advisor, 6 June 2023

Dear Dr Doig

Thank you for your email dated 2 March 2023 to the Honourable Grace Grace MP, Minister for Education, Minister for Industrial Relations and Minister for Racing, regarding the provision of religious instruction (RI) in Queensland state schools. I have been asked to respond on the Minister’s behalf, and I apologise for the delay in responding.

I appreciate the time you have taken to share your thoughts on this important matter.

I can confirm that there are currently no changes, nor a review planned, to the laws that allow the delivery of RI—by any religious denomination or society—during school hours (excluding meal breaks or recess).

Parents will continue to choose whether or not their child participates based on information provided by the school at the time of enrolment, on the school’s website, in newsletters and/or in parent handbooks.

Students not participating in RI will receive other instruction that helps them to consolidate their learning through activities determined by principals. These activities may include, but are not limited to, wider reading, research or revision of work.

If you would like further information or assistance, please contact Ms Hayley Stevenson, Acting Assistant Director-General, Disability, Inclusion and Student Services, by email at hayley.stevenson@ged.gld.gov.au or on (07) 3513 5836.

I trust this information is of assistance.

Yours sincerely

Tim Shipstone

Senior Policy Advisory

Office of the Hon Grace Grace MP

All the more reason.