ALLANSFORD and District Primary School is the first in Victoria to announce it will scrap a controversial religious program.
Only 16 per cent of the school’s pupils would have been attending the classes after parents overwhelming rejected the Special Religious Instruction (SRI) lessons.
Just 18 parents returned permission forms after being contacted by the school last term.
School principal Wes Allen said there was no option but to cancel the 30-minute weekly classes from next week.
After a ministerial order in May, all schools running the program were required to obtain new consent forms from parents before the start of term three. Previously the SRI was an opt-out program.
Mr Allen commended the program, despite the low numbers of interested parents.
“We had a very small percentage across the whole school and when we looked at it, it wasn’t viable,” he said.
“We sent out the forms and made our decision based on the responses.
“We were very happy with the program that was being run and we had some fantastic instructors.
“I couldn’t speak more highly of them.”
The school will review its decision once new forms are returned by parents at the start of the 2015 school year.
“There was a bit of confusion in the community from the media about whether the program was related to the curriculum,” Mr Allen said.
“That’s what they tried to clarify and we had a small response.
“That response may well change at the start of next year and we’ll have a look again to see what we need to do.”
The Fairness in Religions in Schools (FIRIS) campaign, launched by parents opposing the classes, yesterday praised Allansford’s decision.
Co-ordinator Lara Wood said she was contacted by a parent who was “very happy” about the decision.
“I was surprised by the low return of forms as this is a rather conservative, Christian area,” she said.
“It clearly means that the new consent form is having an impact. Parents are now being given informed consent and when they are given that they vote with their feet.
“It is very early days. We are hoping this is the first of many and because we collaborated with the department on the new consent form we are glad to see that it’s doing its job to inform parents.”
Ms Wood said the old consent form was written in a way that promoted maximum participation.
“It was almost like an advertisement for SRI,” she said.
“It was grossly misleading for parents because it told parents that it built on the VELS (Victorian Essential Learning Standards) and it implied to parents that it was approved by the Department of Education, which it wasn’t.”
The SRI program, which includes the Access Ministries’ Christian Religious Education (CRE) program, is offered at many government schools in Victoria.
A spokesman from Access Ministries said they were disappointed to learn that a few schools had decided to drop the program.
“While we understand the introduction of new consent forms may have contributed to lower numbers of parents choosing to have their children participate in the classes, we are urging Victorian school communities to allow enough time for the forms to be read and understood by parents and their children,” the spokesman said.
“Given forms were provided to students in the last days of the school term, it’s likely many may still be in the bottom of schoolbags.
“We understand this is an important subject for parents and their children. We genuinely hope they do review the forms and discuss them with the school if required so they can make their own well-informed decision.
“We believe that our program provides significant educational benefits for students who participate.”
Some schools across the south-west do not offer the program due to little interest and the struggle to find instructors.
The region’s largest primary school — Warrnambool Primary School — is still collating its parent consent forms.
Principal Peter Auchettl said, like at Allansford, the program would be dependent on responses.