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  • David Hines

New battles for the minds of children

9 Oct 2020: In 2012, 40% of New Zealand state primary schools had Bible in Schools. In 2020 that had dropped to 21%. What happened in between?

There is still massive support for Christian religious observances (songs and prayers in school assemblies) and Christian karakia (which are used in school classrooms as well as assemblies). These were not even on our radar in 2012.

The spread of these programmes is very uneven. In Wellington province, only eight schools are using Christian religious instruction programmes, making 6.8% of their schools. Southland is at the other extreme, with 51% of their schools using them.

Secular campaigners face new targets

I conducted both surveys, and believe the decline of religious instruction since 2012 is very good news.

But the bad news is that it will now be much harder to clean up the remaining schools. In many areas there will be no parents left who are prepared to stand up and fight to get the remaining few schools made secular. Apart from Southland, there are no stronghold provinces with religious instruction left.

Other forms of Christian discrimination

Is this a school or church? Children can be pressured to join in Christian prayers in state schools under the Government's new Education and Training Act 2020. They need their parents' permission to attend Bible in Schools, but no permission is required for a religious school assembly.

The survey also shows that a high proportion of schools are now using other forms of religious discrimination. 25.5% of those who replied to that question use Christian worship in their school assemblies. An astonishing 60.0% have Christian karakia.

Two schools have all three programmes: Makaraka School in Gisborne and Reporoa School in Waikato. These children are getting more religion as part of a secular state education than I get by going to church every week. But these problems have been ignored by the Ministry of Education:

  • .Guidelines for religion in schools issued by the Ministry of Education early 2019 barely mentioned religious observances or karakia.

  • These practices were also ignored in the revised Education and Training Act which came into force in July 2020.

I've asked asked Minister Chris Hipkins to explain

Updated comment 28 June 2021: These changes sneaked into our schools with barely a word of comment or media coverage. Last Wednesday I asked Chris Hipkins to send the expert reports relied on in making those decisions. A separate article "Chris Hipkins' secret baby" includes this request.

I believe we human rights campaigners need to reinvent our campaign, to deal with schools that raise these new issues.

The most horrific statistic in my survey is that there are now 85.5% of our state schools with children between Year 1 and Year 8 that have one or more of these programmes.

Other regions on the religious instruction ladder

Other regions with very low numbers of schools with religious instruction are: Gisborne, Marlborough and West Coast around 10%.

In the middle are regions with 13 to 17% of their schools affected by religious instruction:

  • Northland and Otago are both on 13%

  • Taranaki is on 13.6%

  • and Canterbury on 16.9%

Slightly above the average are:

  • Manawatu on 21%

  • Auckland on 22.2%

  • Bay of Plenty and Tasman on 23.5%

  • Hawkes Bay on 22.4%

  • Nelson on 25.0%

  • and Waikato on 27.3%

Survey shows Individual school responses/failures to respond

Further down this page (with yellow highlight) is a link to an Excel file showing the individual replies for all 1790 state primary schools in New Zealand, including those that haven’t responded:

They are sorted in the left three columns by (a) regional council areas, (b) cities and (c) school names..

The next column lists the schools that responded to the survey, and those that didn't.

The next two columns show those that answered "yes" or "no" to the question about "religious instruction".

The "dBase" column identifies all the schools gave one of those replies, including yesses or noes, so I could tally them and work out the percentages of schools giving each answer.

Meanwhile other Christian practices in state primary schools are spreading

The next group of columns shows the replies to the questions about other forms of Christian programmes: religious observances, Christian chaplains, Christian youth workers, and Christian karakia.

The database for this smaller group of Christian programmes consists of only 51 replies, because I added it as an afterthought. Numerous secular education members were not interested in these issue when I started; some objected to me even asking about them. But I realised halfway through the survey that we needed this information, because they are all part of the picture of Christian programmes in state schools, and because the government and others are have taken up positions on them:

  • The government doesn't want to address religious observances, so it has ignored this issue in the guidelines it published in 2019, and also in its revision of the Education Act in 2020.

  • The government is also avoiding dealing with Christian karakia, because it has complicated side-issues arising from the Treaty of Waitangi.

  • Some SEN members also want to avoid the practice Christian karakia for fear of stirring up opposition from Maori. I still wanted to include them because, like it or hate it, we need to know the numbers. If they were very small we might not want to pursue it at all.

  • The question of Christian karakia is also being avoided by the government in its plans for a further review of the role of religion in the school curriculum. It held a survey of religious and non-religious groups last year (2020) but hasn't revealed any of the results.

The reason my survey numbers on these issues are small is partly because the total number of replies was tapering off when I issued my interim results. At that stage I had received replies from1200 schools, and was hoping to get 600 more but they never came. I intend to complain to the Ombudsman about those schools, but that has been pushed back by overwhelming workload, such as getting this website up to process them. I paid for a professional firm to set it up in August 2020, but they defaulted on this and other requests, so I have now (May 2021) switched to Wix, who help their clients to design their own web pages.

(This is about 15 columns wide. When I get time I'll split the questions into two files, to make it easier to navigate. I also have regional breakdowns for those who would like them


My survey began on July 29 2020 and was conducted under the Official Information Act. 1200 schools have responded, out of a total of 1790. The OIA deadline has passed, and the defaulters have been reminded twice, so they will now be reported to the Ombudsman.

The survey of other forms of religious discrimination was an afterthought, and has only had 55 replies so far, but these questions will be sent to all the late schools. It will not cover all schools, but if we get a few hundred more responses we will have a more reliable overall picture.

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