Valerie Horton

Students losing their religion in Queensland schools

THOUSANDS of Queensland state school students have opted out of religious instruction in the classroom, with figures compiled for the first time suggesting most students are not aligned with a religion.

Documents released under Right to Information show the parents of more than 60,000 state school students - about one in 10 - had not given consent for their child to take religious instruction at school.

The released documents also revealed more than 360,000 students had not nominated a religion or had one recorded against their enrolment - making up two thirds of enrolled students.

The figures were collected for the first time in April.

Under Queensland law, state schools must "allow provision" for students to take part in up to one hour of religious instruction every week from Years 1 to 12.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said parents could "change their consent at any time" if they did not want their child to take part.

"Students are allocated to religious instruction, or other instruction, based on information provided by parents on the student enrolment form or through other written notification to the school," she said.

"Religious instruction programs are taught by representatives of a religious faith group."

Kevin Bates, who heads the Queensland Teacher's Union, said the number of parents pulling their children out of religious instruction added weight to the argument that there was a growing view in the community that religion did not belong in state schools at all.

"It's our view that as a secular school system, there is no place in state schools for religious instruction," he said.

"We think it's actually an impost on the time that we have available in the week that could be better spent teaching other areas of the curriculum.

"There are ongoing concerns also about the nature and content of the materials being delivered."

Kevin Bates, who heads the Queensland Teacher’s Union. Picture: Liam Kidston.
Kevin Bates, who heads the Queensland Teacher’s Union. Picture: Liam Kidston.

Queensland Parents for Secular State Schooling spokeswoman Alison Courtice said the conversation around religious instruction had been growing louder in recent months.

"We believe that state schools should be places of education for all children and religious instruction is not education," she said.

"It's instruction or indoctrination in one or more religions where children are separated from their classmates based on religion.

"We have parents contacting us regularly saying … 'I've never been given any information on religious instruction by the school'."

Education Minister Grace Grace. Picture:  Steve Pohlner
Education Minister Grace Grace. Picture: Steve Pohlner

Of those students who did nominate a faith, Catholicism was the one most aligned with, followed by Christianity and Anglicanism.

Education Minister Grace Grace said the current policy on religious instruction would not change.

"Our position is exactly the same as it has been for generations, that religious instruction will be provided in state schools with parents' consent," she said.

The Anglican and Catholic churches declined to comment.