Religion in school divides principals

The debate on religion in state schools has heated up once more and Bendigo principals have weighed in.

Bendigo Senior Secondary College principal Dale Pearce yesterday said there was no place for religious instruction in public schools.

“I think it’s important for students to understand a range of beliefs people have,” he said.

“That’s different from religious instruction.

“Churches and religions have a role to play and there’s a time and a place for that and that place is not in public schools.”

But Maiden Gully Primary School assistant principal Jordan Ancrum and Kennington Primary School principal Glenda Miller voiced their support of religion in school and said they would not be scrapping it.

They said volunteers from Access Ministries, a Christian organisation that delivers 81 per cent of religious instruction programs in public schools across Victoria, currently deliver the opt-in programs at their schools.

Both said Access did a good job and Mr Ancrum said the program added diversity to the school.

“It’s something extra you can offer,” he said.

“We’ve had no complaints but it is opt-in, so if anyone had a problem with it they wouldn’t allow their child to participate.”

Their comments come amid reports many public primary schools in Melbourne have stopped offering religious Christian religious education, with Cranbourne South Primary School principal Joe Kelly labeling such classes “rubbish”.

Ms Miller said she didn’t see any evidence of volunteers “indoctrinating” students, as was alleged by Mr Kelly, and that 82 per cent of her students chose to opt in to the classes.

“It’s a values-based program with a Christian overlay,” she said.

She said students in Melbourne were much more ethnically diverse than students in Bendigo, but that it may be time to re-evaluate the program in the next few years.

“It may be timely now or some time in the future that the whole concept of the way Christian education is taught at school is re-evaluated to reflect the diversity of our society,” Ms Miller said.

Education Minister Martin Dixon said he had "full confidence in school principals making decisions in the interests of their parent body and the school community".

Dr Evonne Paddison, chief executive of Access Ministries, said Christian religious education was a "choice" that the parents of nearly 90,000 Victorian children still made.

Council statistics show about 62 per cent of Bendigo’s population identifies as Christian, with about one per cent identifying as Non Christian and about 27 per cent having no religion.

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