The Andrews Government has removed Special Religious Instruction (SRI) from class time in Victorian government primary schools. In 2016 schools that continue with the weekly 30 minute program will have to hold it at lunchtime or before or after school.
For many years the numbers of students in SRI classes were artificially buoyed up by the necessity for parents to formally opt out of participation. The State Government change to an opt in policy in 2011 led to a major decline in participation. Enrolments fell 42 per cent from 2013 (92,808) to 2014 (53,361).
This meant only 15.7% of primary school children were in the program. The other 85% were unable to receive any formal teaching in the primary school curriculum while the religious classes were taking place. The Department regulation states:
A principal must ensure that students who do not attend SRI must not be provided with instruction in areas within the Australian Curriculum in Victoria (AusVELS) while other students are participating in SRI.
SRI fell into particular disrepute after the former CEO of the major provider of SRI, Access Ministries, stated:
We must go and make disciples ... What really matters is seizing the God-given opportunity we have to reach kids in schools.
The State Government has announced that it will introduce "respectful relationships education" into the school curriculum in 2016 for all Year levels from Prep to Year 10.
According to the Minister for Education, James Merlino, the program will address the issues involved in family violence and promote gender equity. It will focus on challenging negative attitudes such as prejudice, discrimination and harassment that can lead to violence, often against women.
It will also aim to support students in learning how to build healthy relationships and understand global cultures, ethics and traditions.
The program has arisen out of Victoria's Action Plan to Address Violence against Women and Children 2012 - 2015 and coincides with the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
Schools will receive training and guidance to deliver the curriculum content. The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) will develop resources to support teachers.
The state-wide introduction of respectful relationships education follows a pilot program in 30 Victorian schools.