Religious instruction guidelines for primary and intermediate schools
The legal framework regulating religious instruction in schools can be hard to navigate. Our guidelines help boards understand what their obligations are and how they can meet them. They also inform parents, caregivers, family and whānau of their rights and what they should expect from their schools.
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While these guidelines are not enforceable, they do provide boards with support to develop policies and processes about how to allow religious instruction, including during the decision-making process.
If a board chooses not to follow the guidelines, they must find other ways to comply with the Education and Training Act 2020, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993.
- A board does not need to allow religious instruction.
- If the board chooses not to allow religious instruction, there are no legal obligations to comply with.
- If a school does choose to allow religious instruction, the board must meet all of their legal obligations under New Zealand’s education and human rights laws.
The Education and Training Act 2020 specifies that:
- teaching in state primary and intermediate schools must be secular while the school is open
- after consulting with the principal, boards have the discretion to close their school, or part of their school, for up to 1 hour per week and no more than 20 hours per year to allow religious instruction conducted in a way the board has approved and given by voluntary instructors
- religious instruction must be held on an opt-in basis by requiring signed consent from a parent or caregiver before allowing a student to participate in religious instruction.
To comply with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993, boards who choose to close their school to allow religious instruction must do so in a way that protects the rights of diverse students and their families and whānau to be free from discrimination based on their religious or non-religious beliefs.
Recommendations to boards
To meet these obligations, the Ministry recommends that boards:
- use community consultation to inform the decision about whether or not to allow religious instruction
- provide full and accurate information to students, families and whānau about the religious instruction sessions to help them make informed decisions
- offer valid alternatives to religious instruction if religious instruction takes place when the school would usually be open for teaching
- hold religious instruction on an opt-in basis meaning the principal must require and keep written and signed permission from a parent or caregiver before allowing a student to attend
- use volunteers who are not teaching staff to lead religious instruction
- provide secular school and student support services
- ensure safety checks on volunteers have been completed if the volunteer will have unsupervised access to students
- have a school complaints procedure that is communicated to families and whānau and use that procedure to resolve issues.
As a result of consultation in 2018, these guidelines were published in May 2019.
To learn more about the consultation, see the summary of submissions.
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