Brian Morris is a professional journalist and member of Atheism South Australia Inc. In April 2014 he approached the RSA, seeking support for a survey he wanted to conduct.
Atheism SA suspected that, while South Australian schools should have been free of Special Religious Instruction since 1968, it may be creeping back, due to the SA Education Department Administrative Instructions and Guidelines giving individual principals discretion to allow in “explicit faith-based groups”.
To find out, Morris wrote to 500 schools in South Australia. This is his report.
With no information publicly available for the level of religion instruction in South Australian schools, an attempt was made to survey school principals to acquire initial data. The 1-page survey and covering letter were kept simple and to the point, and were to serve as a starting point for a more detailed survey, should the need arise at a later date.
- Survey form and letter sent to 500 SA schools. 435 public schools + 65 selected private schools. Copies attached.
- Mailed out 30.4.14 with responses requested by 26.5.14.
Regrettably, the response has been extremely poor. Reasons are canvassed in the conclusion:
- 45 responses (9%). Response method: 11 by on-line (24.4%) , 10 by email (22.2%), 24 by return mail (53.4%).
- 2 other surveys were completed but had no school identification, from either the form or returning envelope.
- 2 further responses: 1 wishing to respond but unauthorised by DECD; 1 other RTS unopened.
- 31 schools hosted Chaplains (69%), including one Christian Pastoral Support Worker.
- 4 schools had token sessions of Secular Ethics.
- 5 schools had token sessions of Comparative Religion classes.
- 8 public schools had either 1 period per term of religious instruction, or twice per year at Christmas and Easter.
- 3 private schools had weekly religious instruction.
- Only 1 private school indicated that the Bible was taught “as the inerrant word of God”.
There may be several reasons for the poor response.
- Survey lacked authorisation from Dept. Ed. (DECD); commented by Unley High School, but supportive of survey.
- A high profile organisation would certainly have achieved a higher strike rate.
- Some schools may have felt restrained to respond in the current climate (National Curriculum Review).
- No assessment can be made of the extent to which: The spreadsheet is attached:
- Religion is being taught in public schools. Perhaps many schools run SRI classes but have simply neglected to respond.
- While only a token survey was extended to private (Christian) schools, there may well be a significant number that teach a literal interpretation of the Bible, similar to Prescott College.
The logical follow-up, from a journalistic viewpoint, would be to phone at least 100 public schools to discover reasons for their disinclination to respond and, where possible, to then conduct the survey verbally. Under normal circumstances I would be amenable to this follow-through but unfortunately, at this point, I simply do not have the time.
The organisation greatly appreciates the contribution made by RSA to enable this trial project to proceed. Our thanks are extended also to (RSA committee member) Rohan Kapitany for designing and monitoring the on-line element of the survey. We trust RSA feels the survey was worth the attempt, disappointing though the results have been. Clearly, it remains essential to acquire information about religion in SA schools but a fresh approach will be needed.
Atheism SA Inc