Children as young as seven were being taught to form “special friendships” and share secrets with adults in what has been labelled as “grooming behaviour” in religious instruction material in Queensland. The material will be removed from the curriculum following a review by the Queensland government.

Queensland Education Minister Kate Jones commenced a review into the Connect religious instruction material in June after a school principal suspended the program in his school over concerns that it was proselytising to children. Children had been taught to recreate violent beheadings in the Bible, and teachers were encouraged to teach children about sin by mixing cordial with bleach.

In a report released yesterday, many of the fears parents held about the material being taught to children in religious instruction were confirmed. Most shockingly, given some of the evidence heard before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the review found that the Connect religious instruction had been encouraging children as young as seven to form “special friendships” with adults and share secrets. The review stated:

“Activities should not teach or encourage students to keep secrets, particularly secrets between a child and an adult. Creating secrets with a child is identified as an example of possible grooming behaviour within the Department’s Student Protection Guideline.”

The material was “encouraging undesirable child safe behaviours” in using such grooming language, the review found.

Other issues found with the religious instruction material was insulting language used to refer to indigenous students and students with disabilities.

One book suggests Aboriginal students “are most teachable when sitting in small groups outside under a tree” and that “RE followed by a barbecue lunch on Friday, then an afternoon’s sport would be the most pleasurable experience Aboriginal primary students could imagine”.

Another section ponders whether a blind man was being punished by God because his parents had done something wrong.

In one bizarre lesson for upper primary school students, the religious instruction teacher is encouraged to “bring in a dead animal to dissect”, and the review found this was inappropriate without proper animal ethics being considered.

The review also raised concern about the bleach and cordial lesson, and another lesson where tomato juice was used to represent drinking blood.

Some parts of the manuals were found to be encouraging staff to proselytise to students, but these manuals were being updated, e.g. when a prayer is suggested at the end of class, teachers will now be required to tell students they don’t have to pray.

As a result of the review, religious instruction will remain in Queensland schools, but the inappropriate content will be removed, and processes for departmental approval of what is taught in the subject will be improved.

Religious instruction commences from year 1 in Queensland and is opt-in based on what religion a student’s parent indicates when they enrol in the school. Religious instruction is only offered if there is a religious instruction class available in the parents’ stated religion. More informed consent will be obtained from parents in signing students up to the classes following the review, and Queensland will begin collecting more data to measure the number of students attending religious instruction in the state.

Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools, which first raised concern about the Connect material, said on its Facebook page that they would continue to work with the Queensland government on the matter, but said that “there is no change to the intrinsically divisive nature” of the religious instruction program.

Religious instruction was removed from school time in Victoria last year, and New South Wales is currently reviewing its religious instruction program.

Peter Fray

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