Religious education

Religious instruction in Victorian schools takes a number of forms across the various school sectors and often plays an important part in the school curriculum.

Religious education in Victorian non-government schools

In the case of non-government schools, it is up to the individual school to dictate the religious curriculum that students follow and the importance of religion in school life. Their religious programs may involve anything from in-depth classes instructing students in the religion with which the school is aligned, to general religious education classes that educate students about a variety of religious faiths. Schools may choose not to offer a religious program at all.

Religious education forms an important part of the school curriculum in Catholic and church-affiliated independent schools, with students generally attending religious assemblies or masses and undertaking religious education classes alongside other compulsory studies in English, mathematics and science.

Religious education in Years 11 and 12 is generally optional for students, who may elect to undertake it as a VCE subject, although in many religious schools religious education is compulsory.

Religious education in Victorian government schools

While it is expected that children who are enrolled in church-affiliated non-government schools will be educated in the faith that the school follows, children enrolled in secular government schools are also exposed to religious instruction.

Victorian government school students receive two main government-funded religious programs: the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program (NSCSWP) and Special Religious Instruction (SRI).

National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program (NSCSWP)

  • This Commonwealth Government funded program provides funding to assist both government and non-government schools nationwide to establish chaplaincy and pastoral care services. Chaplains provide pastoral care as well as spiritual guidance for school students, staff and parents.
  • The government has provided $243 million to fund the program, enabling government and non-government schools to apply for $20,000 per year to fund a chaplain (who need not be formally qualified) from the faith or denomination of their choice. This program is optional and it is up to individual schools to determine the role of the chaplain in their school.

Special Religious Instruction (SRI) in Victorian government schools

  • SRI involves 30-minute weekly lessons, funded by the Victorian Government, in which students are instructed in the religion of a particular faith (generally Christianity). Lessons are instructed by accredited volunteers who have undergone a Working with Children Check. Students only attend the lessons if they have specifically opted in to do so. Before 2011, all children attended SRI classes unless their parents specifically opted out. Children who do not participate in SRI must be engaged in positive and independent learning, such as instruction in areas outside of the core curriculum.
  • Most of the SRI volunteers in Victoria are provided by Christian education organisation Access Ministries. Access Ministries is the only religious instruction provider to receive state funding $500,000 annually and their 4000 volunteers teach 96 per cent of the religious instruction in Victorian schools.
  • While Victorian Government guidelines do not discern what exactly should be taught in SRI lessons, they do forbid instructors from trying to convert students to a particular faith. The Access Ministries syllabus is intended to provide children with an introduction to spirituality and teach them about Christian values.
  • SRI may be conducted by approved members of any faith (including Catholic, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Islamic or Buddhist) although the majority of Victorian students are instructed in the Christian faith by Access Ministries instructors. Lessons are not multi-faith providers are only required to teach what their own religion dictates. This is how SRI differs from other forms of religious education that educate students about the various religions followed around the world.

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