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  • David Hines

Slippery slope for Bible in Schools. Govt tinkering makes it worse

written by Admin October 24, 2020

The decline in schools with Christian classes since 2012

When the Secular Education Network was founded in 2012, I conducted a survey that showed 40% of New Zealand state primary schools were running religious instruction classes. On 31 July 2020 I launched a new survey, to find out how many schools have them now. It has dropped to 22%.

I picked July 31 as my survey start date, because that was when the new Education and Training Act became law, and one of its changes was to forbid schools to enrol children in these classes unless the parents gave their permission in advance (Called an opt-in system).

What caused the drop in Bible in Schools classes?

I put that question to the schools:

  • Two percent of the schools who replied said they dropped out early in 2019, when the government introduced new guidelines. The main guideline was to recommend an opt-in system. At that stage it was voluntary; each school was free to make its own decision. But that was enough to encourage these schools to stop these classes.

  • Another 4% dropped out because of the Covid-19 shutdown in March 2020. All schools had to close their doors for a few months; when they re-opened after the lockdown, these schools took the opportunity to cancel the classes.

  • Another 1% dropped out in 2020, at the time of the law change. The law didn't say they had to cancel the classes: it just said "use an opt-in system" but this 1% took the opportunity to cancel them.

  • Another 2% were waiting to consult their school boards before making a decision, so it could lead to the number dropping to 20%, just half of the number when our campaign started. I have not resurveyed these schools, but I suspect they too may have cancelled the classes by now.

Why would schools cancel Bible in Schools just because of it requiring permission in advance?

From past experience in the Secular Education Network, I would say:

  • some boards can’t be bothered with the extra paperwork of keeping track of which pupils have their parents opting out.

  • And other schools will have shifted to opt-in and then found the numbers of children attending dropped off as a result. This has happened with a number of schools in the past..

18% of these schools have opt-in systems now, and another 3% will have opt-in this term. (There were no schools with opt-in systems at all, in 2012.) This information drew 135 “likes” when I posted it on the Secular Education Network Facebook group a few days ago, one of the highest likes I have seen there. But the Network was not about to give up campaigning for a total shutdown of religious instruction and religious observances. It had a campaign due to be heard in the High Court in Auckland on October 12 2020, aimed at making both of these activities illegal. We didn't want to wait another eight years for the green line in the graph above to go down to zero.

Altogether, I conducted four surveys about religion in schools in 2020. One covered the general population; one zoomed in on small religions. A third survey, in July covered schools, and had a few questions for school principals on what kind of teaching about religion they would favour in future.

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