Schools want clarity on religious instruction

Last updated 12:00 11/03/2014

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Milson School's board of trustees will consider writing to the Ministry of Education, urging it to give clearer guidelines on religion in schools.

Last week, the school changed the proposed times for new Christian Religious Education (CRE) syllabus classes to outside school hours, following a complaint from a parent.

Principal Vanessa Pitt said yesterday the request for clearer guidelines was an agenda item for the next board meeting near the end of term.

The school had used a 2009 document created by the Human Rights Commission called "Religion in New Zealand Schools" when making its initial decision.

She said attention to the issue "sort of undoes a lot of the good we're doing".

The Secular Education Network was in agreement over the need for clearer guidelines, calling the disputes over religious education in schools "chaotic".

Spokesman David Hines said he was aware of about five schools that had been involved in such matters, including a second, as-yet-unnamed school in Palmerston North where "discussions were continuing" over the inclusion of religious education, and in each the situation was handled differently.

Ministry of Education deputy secretary for student achievement Rowena Phair said the ministry received a little more than one complaint a year out of 2500 schools nationwide, which suggested it wasn't "a major issue".

In the small number of cases where there was an issue, parents and the school's board usually sorted it out amicably, she said.

"We would certainly listen carefully to any concerns expressed from schools and parents about the need for more detailed guidelines on religious teaching in schools," she said.

"However, the feedback we are getting is that in general schools are successfully dealing with issues that arise in this area."

Schools had a lot of flexibility in the way they delivered the curriculum and should always handle matters involving faith sensitively.

While state primary schools were required to be secular, it didn't preclude them from teaching about different religions, she said.

A spokeswoman for the Human Rights Commission said there was no plan to review the 2009 "Religion in New Zealand Schools", nor had it had any requests to do so.

The guide was developed following a diversity forum on religion, where it was agreed that a resource about issues around religion in schools should be developed. It was published in 2009, after consultation with the public, the New Zealand School Trustees Association and the Ministry of Education.

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