We thank the Queensland Department of Education for undertaking a review of the Connect program. Having read the report, we have a number of issues we would like to clarify and would greatly appreciate the department’s consideration and response to the following.
On page 6, the report states:
(A) “While parents may nominate a religion for their child on the enrolment form, the child may not have personally accepted that religion and, therefore, RI could be viewed as trying to solicit the child to follow a particular religion.”
(B) “The RI policy does not provide advice as to whether proselytising is considered to occur when students who don’t identify with a Christian faith are being placed into Christian RI classes by their parents.”
(C) “It is noted that legal advice provided by faith groups has indicated the view there is no legislative basis for prohibition of proselytising in the EDPA or EDPR. The Department’s Legal and Administrative Law Branch supports this view.”
In fact, the legislation is silent on proselytising and, therefore, neither specifically allows nor prohibits it.
Through correspondence and discussions with the department, we have been repeatedly advised that no proselytising whatsoever is permitted in state schools, including during RI.
With reference to the above statements, we would like to clarify the following:
1. Given the above statements, is the position of the department still that no proselytising whatsoever is to be permitted in state schools, including during RI?
2. If ‘yes’, will the department be making that blanket prohibition on proselytising official and explicit in policy, either specifically relating to RI or as general policy which will also encompass RI?
3. If the answer to either 1 or 2 above is ‘yes’, and with reference to (A) above, given the acknowledgement that RI could be viewed as trying to solicit the child [identified by parents as belonging to a religious affiliation but who may not have personally accepted that faith], and, logically, any child who has not been identified with a faith, to follow a particular religion, will the department ensure that children who themselves have not personally professed a faith do not participate in RI, whether their parents have indicated a religious affiliation for them or not?
4. If the answer to both 1 and 2 above is ‘no’, with reference to (A) above, will the department still continue to permit schools to offer RI to unaffiliated children and also children who have not personally professed a belief in a certain religion even if their parents have identified them as a member of that faith?
5. If the answer to 4 above is ‘yes’, how does the department intend to ensure that parents and students are aware that during RI there is no prohibition on proselytising, meaning that the child may be solicited for a decision to follow a particular religion?
6. If the answer to both 1 and 2 above is ‘no’, with reference to both the Religious Instruction policy statement and the Religious Diversity policy, given that the vast majority of state schools offer only Christian religious instruction and if proselytising is not prohibited, how will the department reconcile the following statement in both the cited policies?
“State schools respect the background and beliefs of all students and staff by not promoting, or being perceived as promoting, any particular set of beliefs in preference to another.”
On pages 4-5, the review states:
“As many of the examples cited by the Windsor State School principal could not be located by reviewers in the current Connect materials, the Department contacted the publisher of the Connect materials for assistance in locating the references. The publisher advised that these references were in relation to superseded Connect manuals.”
QPSSS has the latest version of B Cycle manuals, the previous (‘superseded’) version of the C Cycle manuals plus the most recent version of the C Cycle manuals. We also obtained a copy of the examples of proselytising provided by Mr Keong to the Windsor State School RI providers and the department. We are puzzled by the above statement about being unable to locate many said examples and checked to see if the examples cited by Mr Keong were in the latest versions of the B and C Cycle manuals. The results were collated in the accompanying comparative table in Schedule A (we were advised by the publisher that the B Cycle manuals have not been updated since 2012/13 so the table refers to C Cycle manuals only), but in summary, by our count:
- 39 examples of proselytising were provided to the department by Windsor’s principal
- 26 (67%) of these were the same in the previous version and the current version
- 2 (0.05%) were completely removed.
- 11 (28%) were subject to changes ranging from very minor to moderate, and largely made the soliciting indirect rather than direct, or used passive rather than active language.
That is, 37 of 39 examples (95%) were the same or only slightly changed and still recognisable.
This makes the review statement cited above extremely perplexing.
7. Why were the reviewers unable to locate the examples when most were there either unchanged or only slightly amended?
As also stated in the review on page 6, the department defines proselytising as:
“Soliciting a student for a decision to change their religious affiliation.”
However, it seems apparent that, unlike Mr Keong, consideration has not been given to what constitutes ‘soliciting’. The common definition of ‘soliciting’ is:
“To ask for, to try to obtain, to persuade, to seek to influence and to express the need or desire.”
That is, the solicitation does not need to be explicit and/or direct. In addition to the presence of the majority of examples of proselytising provided by Mr Keong, many of the examples are preceded and/or followed by other statements and/or influencing factors that do not appear to have been considered.
For example, one instance of proselytising provided refers to p157 of Connect C1, lower primary:
“Are you a sheep? – Ask students to consider what it would mean for them to have Jesus as their shepherd. Would their lives change and, if yes, in what ways? How would it feel to know that you have a shepherd watching over you and looking after you in the best way possible all the time? Students could then write a journal entry considering the points above.”
This is preceded by:
“How would you feel if you decided to have Jesus as your good shepherd? (Accept responses or allow students a couple of minutes to consider what this would mean for them. Assure your students that they can speak to you if they need more information or explanation on what to do next if this is a decision they want to make.)”
It could not be clearer that they are trying to persuade children to make a decision about whether to follow Jesus or not with these statements. We make the point that the result of the attempt to solicit a decision is irrelevant; it is the attempt to proselytise that is pertinent, not whether it is successful.
The following example is from Lesson 2, P23, Cycle C2, lower primary.
“Wow! What an amazing miracle! What’s more, this is a true story… Jesus really did this; it wasn’t a magic trick.
“The bible says when we trust and follow Jesus who then rose from the dead, we can live in heaven with God forever. In other words, it is only through Jesus that we can be clean before God and be friends with him forever.
“I want you to consider what you think about Jesus’ miracle”
Immediately following the above, the instructor is told to indicate the visual aid of John 20: 30-31, which says:
“Jesus worked many other miracles for his disciples, and not all of them are written in this book. But these are written so that you will put your faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. If you have faith in him, you will have true life”.
The children in this class are 7-9 years old and this kind of ‘set-up’ and ‘leading’ is not only seeking to influence and persuade (i.e. soliciting), it is done so coercively to such young, undiscriminating minds.
As the meaning of “solicit” determines if something is proselytising, it is concerning that the review makes no examination or even mention of its meaning.
8. Does the department accept the ordinary meaning of ‘solicit’ is “To ask for, to try to obtain, to persuade, to seek to influence and to express the need or desire.”?
9. If not, what does the Department consider it to mean?
We note page 8 of the review states:
“The Department’s Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Services policy statement defines evangelising as “preaching or advocating a cause or religion with the object of making converts to Christianity.”
We note on page 9 it states:
“Although proselytising was not common throughout the manuals, evangelising was frequently identified in all teacher manuals – both in terms of teachers evangelising to students, and students being encouraged to evangelise to others.”
The review applies a definition of evangelising that is not in the RI policy. In discussions with the department we were advised that for the purposes of RI, the chaplaincy definition – “with the object of making converts to Christianity” – was not applicable, and that “evangelising” was viewed simply as “preaching the gospel” and the second part of the chaplaincy definition was not applicable because evangelising could not cross the boundary of “proselytising”, defined in RI policy as “soliciting a student for a decision to change their religious affiliation”.
The review provides examples of students being encouraged to evangelise others.
The examples given are:
“Students could compose a poem, song, drama to communicate the gospel to others (Upper Primary, B2, Lesson 18, p. 190).
“Students could make beaded bracelets or necklaces and give them to their friends as a way of sharing the good news about Jesus (Lower Primary, C2, Lesson 17, p. 153).”
We agree that these are correctly identified as examples of “evangelising” as they are related to the “preaching of the gospel” but they likely do not cross the line of “proselytising” as communicating the gospel and sharing the good news about Jesus are “preaching the gospel” and don’t go further to solicit others for a decision to change their religious affiliation.
The review states on page 8:
“Throughout the Connect teacher manuals a small number of examples of possible proselytising were found.”
The following were given as examples of this:
“Hand out the flyers for local church services if you have them (Upper Primary, C1, Lesson 10, p. 100).”
“How about asking your parents if you could come along to kids club or kids church. (This would be a good time to hand out flyers.) (Upper Primary, B2, Lesson 17, p. 181).”
“Students are asked to write a newspaper article for inclusion in a newspaper to be distributed at the Christmas assembly. The newspaper could have details about the local church’s Christmas services at the back (Upper Primary, B2, Lesson 18, p. 187).”
The review notes these examples encourage attendance at church and, perplexingly, states that they are not necessarily soliciting students to change their religious affiliation to the Christian faith. If that is how they are viewed, why were they given as examples of proselytising? We agree they do encourage attendance at church but no examination is made of how they fit within the context of everything else in Connect, and, quite frankly, in isolation these barely register on the ‘proselytising scale’ compared to some other elements of the program which have not been raised as far clearer examples, although they are clearly part of the stated program aim of “…linking interested students to church-run children’s and youth activities…”. (‘Welcome’ section on p2 of each manual). (We also note that the first and second examples above breach one of the agreed conditions stipulated in the department’s ‘Form 1: Single/Cooperative Arrangement and Religious Instructor Approval’ which states: “…particular religious and denominational activities organised outside the school will not be advertised during religious instruction classes…”.)
Taking just one example of that Mr Keong used:
Lesson 20 C1 Lower primary page 172
“Connections – “What should we do with all our heart? (Accept responses. Trust the Lord)
So God says not to follow our own feelings and what we think is right, but instead to trust God. What might it look like for you to trust God with all your heart and let him lead you?
(Accept responses. Your students may need some guidance in answering this question. Have a personal example ready about a time when you decided to make an important decision by trusting God and praying to him about it.)”
This example has not been changed and appears in the new version of Connect C1 teachers manual. We note there are no Bible verses in this example.
10. Does the Department consider this example crosses the line of preaching the gospel to soliciting (i.e. asks for, tries to obtain, to persuade, to seek to influence and to express the need or desire) children for a decision to become a Christian?
Proselytising does not even need to be verbal or explicit, it can occur by various means but this does not appear to have been considered in the review either.
Mr Keong’s examples of proselytising include not only direct proselytising in terms of dialogue to the students but also Connect content that supports and sets the stage for all the direct proselytising. Examples include the curriculum aim of salvation (which means conversion to Christianity); reminders that most of the children are not yet Christian; teachers’ prayers; lesson aims and outcomes; bible background; information to the instructor, likening those who have not accepted the doctrine to dirty states/items, warnings of dire consequences for not believing, etc.
Taken with the direct proselytising in the actual statements to the children, the songs, the activities and other resources, it is clear that Connect solicits children for a decision to become a Christian. The extent of that soliciting is massive and in many instances coercive. It goes well beyond ‘preaching the gospel’ of those examples identified above.
Reviewers, rightly in our opinion, took exception to explanatory or background information in lessons – that is, that was not dialogue instructors were to say to students – when it concerned child safety, indigenous students and disabled students, yet appear to have exempted from scrutiny non-dialogue elements of the content when it comes to the issue of proselytizing/evangelising.
11. Why did the review not consider the non-dialogue elements of the content in relation to the issue of proselytising?
12. After re-reviewing Mr Keong’s examples of proselytising as provided in Schedule A, both direct dialogue to children and evidence of the intention of Connect to solicit children to become Christians, does the Department accept that they are examples of proselytising? If not, why not?
Page 8 of the report states:
“Direct quotes from the Bible were not considered as proselytising on the basis that parents of children attending these RI classes have indicated an affiliation with Christianity or a desire for their child to learn about it.”
At the risk of stating the obvious, there is a big difference between a parent being happy for their child to learn about a religion and acquiescing to their child being solicited to change their religion.
If direct quotes from the Bible are not considered to be proselytising, this can conceivably lead to farcical situations whereby if an instructor said to a student, “You must trust God and always worship Him” that may be considered proselytising, but if they said to the student, “Trust the Lord and His mighty power, worship Him always” that would be acceptable because it is taken directly from the Bible [1 Chronicles 11:13].
Children are also required to recite memory verses as part of their RI lesson, usually from the Bible, and repeat the same verse across a number of weeks. Verses such as:
“Think how much the Father loves us. He loves so much that he lets us be called his children, as we truly are.” 1 John 3:1 (CEV) (L11-14 C2 Upper Primary)
“It’s also true that we must love God with all our heart, mind and strength, and that we must love others as much as we love ourselves.” (Mark 12:33 CEV) (L15 -19, C2, Lower Primary)
We also don’t understand why proselytising is allowed if it’s in the form of a Bible quote when the reviewers (thankfully!) wouldn’t allow reference to animal sacrifice or gender disrespect even if it is mentioned in a direct quote from the Bible. Examples given are:
“• Upper Primary, C1, Lesson 4, p. 46 (Student Worksheet) includes a Bible quote on animal sacrifice: “Finally, Saul commanded, ‘Bring me some animals, so we can offer sacrifices to please the LORD and ask for his help’. Saul killed one of the animals…
“• Upper Primary, A2, Lesson 7, p. 13 (Student activity book) includes references to wasting money on women (which could be referring to prostitution) in a Bible quote: “This other son of yours wasted your money on [women].
“While not explicit in its description of the meaning, this reference is not considered appropriate for 10-12 year old students and does not align with the Government’s approach to encouraging respectful gender relationships.
“Events and concepts such as animal sacrifice and ‘wasting money on women’ are not considered developmentally appropriate for the target age group and their continued use in primary schools is not considered appropriate.”
It appears that the reviewers considered soliciting a student to change their religious affiliation as developmentally appropriate for the target age group if it comes directly from the Bible.
13. Why is there this inconsistent approach in the review to what is considered developmentally appropriate or not based on whether it comes directly from the Bible?
We also note that on page 19, in Appendix 2, it states:
“Each reviewer was allocated one or two teacher’s manuals to consider.”
While we understand that the task of conducting the review was of considerable scope, the fact that each reviewer read only one or two manuals may have hindered them from appreciating that the program as a whole is presented in such a way as to lay a path of ideas along which to lead children to the ultimate conclusion that it is imperative that they follow Jesus Christ – that is, soliciting children for a decision to change their religious affiliation.
“It seems that substantial work has gone into removing the perception of proselytising from the publications (for example, through the preface added to the whole class concluding prayers which provide the option to participate).”
We agree that it is only the perception that has been removed, while the original intent remains. In saying this, it is not our intention to malign the publishers, providers or instructors; it is to be expected that it is the strongest hope of people with a sincere faith that others also accept teachings and follow a path they believe will result in the best outcome for everyone. It is precisely for this reason that religious instruction is inherently incompatible with a state school setting.
14. Even if restricted by the apparent fact that only inter-denominational proselytising is officially prohibited in RI policy, does the department intend to address the obvious attempts within the Connect program ‘to persuade, to seek to influence and to express the need or desire’ with regard to belief in the doctrines being presented to unaffiliated children in RI lessons using this program?
Evangelising vs Proselytising
On pages 8-9 of the report, under the section 5.3 Evangelising, it states:
“The Department’s Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Services policy statement defines evangelising as “preaching or advocating a cause or religion with the object of making converts to Christianity”. While not explicitly prohibited by the EGPA or EGPR, nor referenced in the RI policy statement, the Department would expect schools to take appropriate action if aware that evangelising is occurring outside [our emphasis] of an RI class given it could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for students.
“Although proselytising was not common throughout the manuals, evangelising was frequently identified in all teacher manuals – both in terms of teachers evangelising to students, and students being encouraged to evangelise to others.”
15. With regard to the statement, “Although proselytising was not common throughout the manuals, evangelising was frequently identified in all teacher manuals,” does this mean that the reviewers identified frequent examples of attempt to convert students to Christianity within the Connect program?
16. Does the department allow evangelising, as defined in the Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Services policy statement, during religious instruction classes given the above statement suggests that it is of concern only if conducted outside RI lessons?
If the answer to 16 is ‘yes’, that would mean attempts to convert students to Christianity are permissible in Christian RI lessons.
17. Does the department consider that attempting to convert unaffiliated students, and/or students who don’t personally identify as Christian even if identified as so by their parents, to Christianity during RI classes is permissible regardless of what label is applied to it (that is, whether it is called evangelising or proselytising)?
18. If the answer to question 17 is ‘yes’, does the department also consider it permissible in the case of all other religions?
19. If the answer to question 18 is ‘yes’, will the department make this position an official part of policy and ensure that every parent is aware of this prior to making a decision for their child in relation to RI?
Prompted by the statement cited above that the Department’s Legal and Administrative Law Branch concurs with RI providers that there is no legislative basis for prohibiting proselytising, we re-visited the legislation that allows for RI in state schools during school hours. Sections from the Act and the General Provisions relating to who is able to participate in RI are below for reference.
76 Religious instruction in school hours
(1) Any minister of a religious denomination or society, or an accredited representative of a religious denomination or society, which representative has been approved by the Minister for the purpose, shall be entitled during school hours to give to the students in attendance at a State school who are members of the denomination or society of which the person is a minister or the accredited representative religious instruction in accordance with regulations prescribed in that behalf during a period not exceeding 1 hour in each week on such day as the principal of that school appoints.
29 Students to attend religious instruction
(1) The principal of a State school must not allow a student to attend religious instruction given by a minister of religion or an accredited representative other than the denomination or society of which the student is a member, unless the student’s parent has given written consent.
(2) However, students may attend classes arranged for students of more than 1 denomination or society by agreement of the ministers of the denominations or societies concerned.
Both of the above sections are worded in a way that assumes that the students to which the legislation refers are already a member of a religious denomination, and takes pains to ensure students of one (presumably Christian as denomination is a Christian term) denomination is not permitted to participate in RI conducted by another (presumably Christian) denomination.
Subsection (2) supports this interpretation by deferring to the discretion of the relevant religious ministers rather than mandating parental permission to attend multi-denominational classes is obtained.
Keeping in mind this legislation was written over 100 years ago when demographic information shows the population was almost exclusively Christian, we believe this reading is supported by the fact that the term ‘denomination’ refers specifically to different branches of the Christian religion, and furthermore by the fact that the only official departmental policy relating to proselytising clearly prohibits inter-denominational ‘poaching’ of students when RI is conducted under a cooperative arrangement.
All of the above suggests that the legislation never intended RI to be offered to any student who wasn’t already a member of a Christian denomination.
In fact, this aligns with the initial advice given to us by the department in correspondence dated 23 December 2015, which stated, “In the context of the RI policy statement, proselytising applies to a cooperative arrangement because the authorised program covers more than one faith and participating students will have a religion from one of the faiths presented.”
We responded by pointing out that many unaffiliated students are participating in RI, with or without parental permission. In reply to this the department simply reiterated that “soliciting a student for a decision to change that religious affiliation is not permitted in Queensland state schools.”
Despite this, RTI data that QPSSS obtained earlier this year shows that, for the schools subject to the request, and likely most schools in the state, the majority of students participating in RI are not affiliated with any religion and, therefore, allowing them to participate may constitute a breach of legislation.
20. What is the department’s understanding of the legislation; that is, does the department consider legislation allows non-affiliated children to participate in religious instruction?
21. If the answer to question 20 is ‘yes’, and the department decides to not prohibit proselytising of unaffiliated students, does the department intend to ensure that all parents of unaffiliated children will be advised that there is currently no prohibition on RI instructors and the programs they use soliciting their child to become a Christian (in the case of Christian RI)?
Even if the section that states, “…unless the student’s parent has given written consent” were taken to mean non-affiliated students could participate in RI with written parental consent – an interpretation we believe to be extremely weak – the term ‘consent’ legally connotes informed consent. It is highly dubious that anything that would be considered informed consent in any other context is currently happening in relation to RI given the situation in many state schools that QPSSS has already brought to the attention of the department. Even after follow-up by the department with these schools, we have yet to see a school that has given parents lesson aims or any idea of the content of the lessons themselves. In addition, we have heard from parents that their principal will not provide parents with the lesson aims saying it is not required of them.
The reviewers acknowledged that the themes of sin, death, salvation, etc., are intrinsic to the Christian faith and RI could not be delivered without reference to them.
Be that as it may, just because these concepts may be intrinsic to the Christian faith, does not mean parents realise the extent and manner in which they are used, in particular, as per Connect, that their child will be repeatedly and graphically told they are a sinner, must not trust themselves and can only receive eternal life if they follow Jesus or they will die.
22. Given the confronting nature in which these concepts are presented in some of the lessons, does the department intend to enforce policy in terms of schools providing comprehensive information by mandating a minimum level of information be provided, including lesson aims and content warnings to allow parents to make a fully informed decision for their child?
It is also clear from the numerous statements within the Connect program that the publishers are very aware that many students are not yet Christians.
We know that state-wide, children are being exposed to RI without informed parent consent or no consent at all due to failure by principals to comply with policy regarding allocation, information to parents and the provision of separate locations for non-RI participants.
In light of comments (A), (B) and (C) on page 1 of this letter; the awareness among RI providers that not all children are yet Christians; the absence of any prohibition on proselytising unaffiliated students; and the penchant for RI providers to view to state schools as ‘mission fields’:
23. How does the department intend to reconcile the current legal requirement to allow religious organisations to access state school students during school hours and schools’ duty of care to all students including the right of children to freedom of religion, which includes freedom from religion, regardless of whether their parents have given permission for them to participate in RI or not?
We also mention the rights of school staff supervising RI lessons to freedom of and from religion. We have identified that Connect has in the recent amendments to the C cycle, attempted to alter the perception that they hope teachers are listening to the lesson and may be influenced by it. We can provide evidence of this if required.
Scope of Review
Page 4 of the review states:
“2.0 The review of the Connect materials focused on the 19 teacher manuals and accompanying student workbooks.”
We understand that reviewing the teacher manuals and student workbooks alone constitutes a considerable task. However, there are many other materials that form part of the Connect program which are problematic. As such, we believe that the scope of the review may not have been sufficient to ascertain the full nature of the Connect program effectively. There are some troubling materials among those that were not reviewed (which include other suggested resources, songs, posters, etc.).
For example, music and song are used extensively in the Connect program, with a passage in the explanatory section at the back of the teacher manuals, “Why should I use music?” dedicated to expounding the rationale behind its use in RI lessons. Despite this, the review of the Connect program did not appear to extend to song lyrics, some of which are very direct in telling children they must believe in God (going beyond preaching the gospel to soliciting).
“You gotta keep the faith
You gotta trust in God
You gotta keep the faith
Believe in God, he’ll save ya
He’s the Saviour”
“I want to follow Jesus
I want to tell the world I love him
’Cause he died for me
He’s set me free
I want to follow Jesus”
Trust in the Lord with all of your heart
Don’t depend on what you understand
Remember the Lord in all that you do
He’ll work His plan out through you
(C1, Lower primary)
“He wanted to save us and make us glad
We must be born again,
and trust and follow him
It’s got to be Jesus, we’ve got to live for him”
(C2, Lower primary)
Now some folks try to tell you:
‘Just be good and do good stuff’
‘Hey hey! And then you’ll get to heaven,
if you do things good enough’
But the Bible says:
to God our good works stink like rotting socks
The only way to get to heaven
is with Jesus as the boss!
(C1, Upper primary)
24. Is it the opinion of the department that messages delivered in song form should not be subject to the same scrutiny as those delivered via other methods?
In each lesson, a section called ‘Other Resources’ provides suggestions for other materials to be used in the lesson. Furthermore, RI providers, evangelical churches and other organisations related to children’s ministry regularly hold conferences and training sessions to introduce new materials for children’s ministry and encourage their use in RI classes, etc.
25. Is it permissible for these materials to be used in lessons given that they are not specified in the cooperative arrangement and will not have been subject to review by principals?
As we have stated in Proselytising (3) above, in addition to the review claiming many examples of proselytising provided by Mr Keong could not be located, the review also appears to have failed to take into consideration the preceding and following statements and actions in the manual.
Treatment of Christian Concepts
On page 7 of the review, it is stated that:
“Terms such as sin, punishment, death and Jesus being nailed to the cross, found throughout the Connect program are a reflection of the Bible’s content on which Christianity is based. While some non-Christians may take offence to the use of these terms, it would be difficult to provide Christian RI without reference to such terms and concepts.”
The review did not identify that these Christian terms and Connect content may be inconsistent with the departmental/school policies around self esteem, bullying, tolerance and difference. For example Connect has these constant messages, verbally and visually presented to the children:
– Do not trust in yourself, only God
– Do not live life your way, only God’s way
– God is in control over everything that happens
– Ignoring God will result in death
– Sin pays off with death
Consider the message of the song lyrics above, “But the Bible says: to God our good works stink like rotting socks/ The only way to get to heaven is with Jesus as the boss!”
This is the exact opposite of the message given to the children at school about the importance of doing good works (whatever those works may be – school work and any work done with an effort to be good) and says directly to children that it doesn’t matter what efforts they make, only that they follow Jesus. It denigrates children’s good works as stinking like rotten socks and, frankly, that goes way beyond acceptable Christian terms. It is coercively soliciting children to follow Jesus and completely inappropriate in state schools.
Please refer to Schedule B for an example of this (Easter assembly from Connect Cycle C1, Upper Primary)
26. Although we do not disagree that it would be difficult to provide Christian RI without reference to such terms and concepts, does the department think that alone is reason enough to allow the conflict with school programs like the You Can Do It program and child safety obligations?
27. Will the department review the Connect program once the publishers have edited them to ascertain if content complies with policy?
Policy Formulation in Relation to Religious Instruction
We refer again to the following statement on p6 of the review:
“It is noted that legal advice provided by faith groups has indicated the view there is no legislative basis for prohibition of proselytising in the EDPA or EDPR. The Department’s Legal and Administrative Law Branch supports this view.”
There is also no legislative basis in RI laws for prohibiting reference to and teaching of matters regarding inclusiveness, child safety, animal ethics, rape and murder etc., during RI. However, the reviewers, rightly, choose to highlight inconsistencies in Connect with policies about those issues and flag them for correction.
28. Does the department believe that the lack of legislative basis to prohibit proselytising means policy to prohibit proselytising cannot be formulated and enacted?
Naturally, the legislation is also silent on what non-RI students may or may not do during RI time, referring only to ‘other instruction’ which is not defined but obviously means instruction other than RI. However, departmental policy specifically prevents non-RI students from continuing with their regular learning. This is in stark contrast to the other optional, non-curricular activity conducted during curriculum time of instrumental music lessons, whereby participating students go to another classroom to have a lesson, leaving their non-participating classmates to continue their learning uninterrupted.
As part of an informed consent process, parents can make a decision if they prefer their child to participate in RI or continue with curriculum work just like they do with instrumental music lessons. Nothing in the legislation excludes the ability of parents to make such a choice for their child, if offered.
29. Why does policy require non-RI students to suspend their regular learning while other students participate in the optional religious instruction program when this is not the case for an analogous activity such as instrumental music?
By requiring non-RI students to suspend regular learning while other students participate in an optional, non-curricular activity – that is, by prioritising religious instruction over curriculum learning – the department appears to be promoting religion over non-religion.
30. Will the department change the policy that requires non-RI students to suspend curriculum learning and treat RI the same as instrumental music in this regard?
Enforcement of policy
The Department is aware of widespread non compliance with current RI policy and we are aware some action has been taken to remind principals of their policy obligations.
Frankly, our impression is many principals have been non-compliant for so long
that they don’t know how to fully comply and the time and effort to do so is too overwhelming for them. Long-standing relationships with RI providers also make it difficult for many principals to make changes.
Recommendations to principals have proven inadequate even given that RI has been in the media and department spotlight in recent times.
Children are illegally being exposed to RI all over the state because of incorrect allocation, lack of informed parental consent and lack of separate supervision in a separate location.
31. Does the department regard schools that do not comply with RI policy to be fulfilling their duty of care to those children?
RI content such as Connect has got to the point where it is inappropriate in so many ways because until now has not been challenged by anyone. It directly contradicts department policies and is not appropriate for use in state schools. That many Christian schools would not let that content into their schools is a regular comment we hear from parents who have attended Christian schools themselves or have children at Christian schools.
We have already given numerous examples of non-compliance to the department and we are aware we are not the only organisation to do that.
However, a few recent examples that we have seen just whilst writing this report include:
Aspley State School
Handbook information from their website:
“Any families not wishing their child to participate in religious instruction must advise the school in writing [nothing about the allocation via enrolment form so could be opt out rather than opt in]. Notification will be then be given to the teacher and the children will either remain at the back of the classroom or in close proximity [illegal and in breach of policy] or, the teacher may arrange for the student to spend time completing other work in a nearby classroom [presumably means joining another class which may be in breach of policy if the teacher in that class is not capable of assisting that child with their activities because they are teaching their own class].”
Hilliard State School
We recently re-reviewed this school after the regional office had liaised with it to improve compliance following our initial review in May 2015. Improvements have been made but it is still not compliant, so either the regional office hasn’t followed up on the school or is itself unable to properly determine compliance or not. See Schedule C.
7.1 Seek amendment of Connect materials
“It is recommended the Department request the publishers revise the Connect materials as soon as practicable to address the relevant findings of this review.
“It would also be beneficial for the Connect manuals to advise instructors to become familiar with relevant state Education Department policies and procedures (such as student protection, health and safety, student wellbeing).”
32. Will the department conduct a further review to ensure new versions align with policy?
Previously, the department has stated in the media that if there are issues with RI principals may suspend the program until those issues are addressed.
33. Why has the department not prioritised the interests of the students who may be exposed to inappropriate content and suspended the use of the Connect program across the state until it can be confirmed that only manuals that have been appropriately amended such that they are compliant with department policy and guidelines are being used in Queensland state schools?
34. Has the publisher been given a deadline to complete amendments?
7.2 Audit the versions of materials being used in schools by instructors
“It is recommended that an immediate audit of currency of the Connect materials being used in Queensland state schools be undertaken to ensure that previous versions of the manuals which include outdated and inappropriate content are disposed of and are not used with students”.
35. What is the timeframe for this?
36. Does the department consider that the legislative rights of religious organisations to use state school time, facilities and personnel to conduct religious instruction over-ride the legislative obligation of principals to ensure a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all students?
7.3 Amend the RI policy statement
“It is recommended that enhancements be made to the RI policy statement to give principals more clarity regarding their responsibility to review authorised programs of RI to help them satisfy duty of care and legislative obligations. This may include a supporting template for principals to guide their review of RI program/s operating in their school against legislation; departmental policies, procedures and frameworks; and the developmental appropriateness of the materials for the relevant age groups.”
RI policy has long stated that principals are to review lesson content but it is likely that the review and subsequent suspension of the program by Mr Keong is the first time this has happened.
37. What measures will be taken to ensure policy is being complied with by schools?
38. Will RI compliance be included in school audits?
It is highly likely that a situation may arise in which different principals review the same RI program and some conclude it is not compliant and others conclude that it is, creating inconsistency across schools.
39. How would the department address such a situation?
“It is also suggested that the policy include a recommendation that principals provide details of the authorised program/materials to the Parents and Citizens’ Association for feedback.”
40. What is the department’s reason for Principals seeking feedback from the P&C?
41. What action is available to principals if the feedback is that the P&C do not consider the materials to be suitable?
We do not consider the recommendation an appropriate measure given that P&C Associations are made up of parents unfamiliar with policy and legislative requirements regarding RI. It is also not uncommon for P&C Association meetings to be strategically ‘stacked’ with supporters when matters relating to RI and chaplaincy are on the agenda. We feel that seeking in this way could give a false imprimatur to a program that would be unwarranted.
“To strengthen informed consent, it is recommended that the ‘Religion – Religious Instruction’ section of the school enrolment form be reviewed with the intent to clarify parent consent to their child participating in RI from Year 1.”
Policy has long required comprehensive information be provided to parents when making a decision regarding RI. Despite this, QPSSS has shown time and again that this does not happen.
We believe the reasons for this include:
a) The inclusion of the RI question on the enrolment form
Parents often download the enrolment from a website or simply collect documents from the school office. The enrolment form provides no information other than how students will be assigned to RI or non-RI. In addition, the question is marked with an asterisk to indicate a response is mandatory and the enrolment form explanation even warns that failure to complete questions marked thus may result in applications being refused. This entire situation forces parents to make a decision in the absence of any information about the program, providers, content, and details of the alternative to RI.
b) Instead of mandating information to be provided to parents, the department only suggests the kind of information that a school may wish to include.
42. Will the department mandate a minimum level of information that schools must provide to parents?
43. Will the department institute a permission process for RI that will ensure that parents are not required to answer a question about RI or otherwise make a decision about RI for their child without receiving comprehensive information, including lesson/program aims, content examples, etc., in a neutral, non-coercive manner, prior to making any commitment for their child?
7.5 Communicate with Principals
“Principals have been advised that, once finalised, the outcomes of the review will be communicated. It is recommended that, through these communications, principals be reminded of the need for:
• vigilance about appropriate permission being in place for students to attend RI classes (which may include intermittent updating of information to ensure the school has current approvals)
• ensuring information about RI classes offered in the school is made available to parents (including where co-operative arrangements are established) and that parents have access to more detailed information and lesson materials if requested
• ensuring that school staff members present during RI classes raise any concerns or issues with the principal.”
44. Will the department ensure that supervising staff have access to the lesson content and require them to ensure adherence to agreed program content?
7.6 Communicate with faith groups who use Connect
“It is recommended that communication occurs with the Christian faith groups in Queensland that are known to use Connect to advise of the outcome of the review and highlight issues raised, including:
• ensuring RI instructors are using the most recent updated versions of the materials
• avoiding specific concepts and terms (such as rape, incest, bigamy in the teacher’s notes) and the need for sensitivity when discussing particular concepts with students (such as animal sacrifice, physical punishment)
• advising instructors to understand and comply with relevant departmental policies and procedures (such as student protection, health and safety, student wellbeing)
• avoiding the provision of food such as lollies and cake at the school to comply with healthy eating behaviours promoted in schools.”
45. Will the department be giving the RI providers suggestions about how to present in a sensitive manner to young children the concept that all humans, including them, are born broken and bad and that you will die if you don’t believe in a certain set of beliefs and deity?
7.7 Improve data capture
“It is recommended that, at a minimum, the number of students participating in RI is captured by the Department. Investigation should also occur regarding collection of the number of students in RI in each of the particular faith groups, the number and composition of cooperative arrangements, and RI programs delivered in each school.”
Policy already requires schools to record RI permissions in OneSchool. However, when QPSSS made an RTI application to access that data we were informed that it was not possible to obtain due to schools not following this policy.
46. How will the department ensure any new policy is followed when existing policy has not been to date?
The review followed by updated policy changes presents an opportunity to the Department to solve the problem of existing non-compliance by schools. We believe that unless schools are required to start from scratch, so to speak, in compliance with an updated RI policy, compliance across the state will be fragmented at best. Starting with a clean slate will also be of assistance to principals that may receive pushback from RI providers to changes as they can say they are mandated to suspend RI and start a new compliance procedure and have no discretion in the matter. Frankly, it will also save the Department a lot of work if it has to be done state-wide rather than left up to individual schools to do it their own way. If not done this way, problems and inconsistencies will inevitably arise.
As such, we would like to make the following suggestions.
- Declare existing participation arrangements invalid and suspend RI in all schools.
- Require schools remove all existing RI information from their website, handbooks etc.
- Require schools conduct a fresh opt in process for all students in years 1-6 whereby parents can make a truly informed decision about their child’s participation in RI or other instruction and any previous permissions are revoked.
- Mandate provision of comprehensive information to parents with mandated minimum information about RI programs used, including lesson aims and outcomes taken directly from the programs themselves and names of the churches involved.
- Require schools to use template and authorised information only on their websites, handbooks, etc.
- To facilitate timely provision of comprehensive information, remove any questions relating to religious instruction from the enrolment form and, instead, require schools to use a standard procedure for obtaining parent intentions regarding RI for their child at the end of the Prep year.
- Employ content warnings about the use of Christian terms of sin, salvation, judgement, death and advise parents that they may conflict with department programs that encourage children to trust themselves and take responsibility for their own lives and, further, that they may cause distress to some children.
- Mandate use by schools of only neutral, factual and non-coercive language in relation to RI.
- Regular audit of RI compliance so there is accountability.
Offer to Assist
We are happy to assist the department any way we can in commenting on any proposed policy changes.
As parents ourselves and on behalf of other parents of state school children, we must have the assurance of the Department that we are to be given comprehensive information by our schools about RI to enable us to make fully informed choices for our children and that the best interests of our children are prioritised above all else. We cannot be expected to accept anything less and we trust that the Department appreciates our position in this regard.
Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools