Principals at Victorian primary schools are getting caught between a rock and a hard place.
ACCESS Ministries wrote to Victorian principals recently, trying to distance themselves from the outrageous antics of religious zealots distributing homophobic, proselytizing material at Torquay College. Some principals, in good faith, cut and pasted ACCESS's words into their newsletters:
"There has been some debate and misinformation in the media in relation to Special Religious Education in schools. In government schools Special Religious Instruction (SRI) is provided by legislation under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006. Where SRI programs are made available to a school via an accredited group such as ACCESS ministries, parents are then free to choose for their child to participate. It is required of the school Principal to make space available in the school schedule, in school hours, in the normal school term as per the legislation and the DEECD’s School SRI Policy updated 7th February, 2014.
We have a very educationally sound curriculum in which the education department have very confidence. It is prepared and written by practising State trained teachers and all have theological training. It is based on the Victorian VELS standards and advice is received from leading Educators."
However, the Department of Education has now written to principals to clarify its relationship with ACCESS:
"The statement that the ACCESS Ministries syllabus is based on Victorian essential learning standards is incorrect.
SRI materials are developed by ACCESS Ministries and are not based on the Victorian curriculum nor approved by the Victorian Education Department.
The Education and Training Reform Act 2006 states that Victorian government schools are secular, and as a secular organisation, the Department does not approve materials based on religious tenets and beliefs.
Furthermore, the Department does not approve any extra-curricular program material delivered by external providers in schools, including those offering special religious instruction or otherwise. It is the responsibility of schools to review materials by providers who deliver extra-curricular programs in schools.
SRI is available on an “opt-in” basis. This means that it is not compulsory for students whose parents do not wish for them to participate. In making this decision, parents have the opportunity to review the material offered by providers. ACCESS Ministries materials are available online."
This seems like back-peddling at a million miles an hour, yet again outsourcing the responsibility for quality assurance onto over-worked and under-resourced principals and teachers.
Further, it is simply not true that ACCESS Ministries materials are 'available online'. If anyone can find them online, send us the link!