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For or against? The debate about religious education in state schools has raised its head again. PHOTO: ALLIED PRESS FILES

More than half of the schools in the Timaru district offer some form of religious education.

That figure, collated by The Courier, comes as the debate about offering religious education in state schools has flared up again, with the Secular Education Network ramping up its campaign to ban the classes.

Of the 12 state primary schools in the Timaru district surveyed by The Courier, five schools offer some form of religious education.

Geraldine Primary, Grantlea Downs School and Beaconsfield School could not be contacted for comment by deadline.

The district’s six Catholic, Anglican or non-denominational Christian schools all have religious components in the core curriculum.

Winchester Rural School principal Tre Sylvawood said the school offered a weekly values-based religious education session for the year 5 and 6 class.

Mrs Sylvawood said the class, run by the Salvation Army, was run on an opt-out basis and both parents and the board of trustees were consulted over the programme.

“We ask the parents if they’re happy for their children to take part.”

Temuka Primary principal Grant Willocks said the school’s weekly half-hour lesson for year 5 and 6 pupils, taken by a Bible in Schools volunteer, was run on an opt-out basis.

He said the school’s relationship with the long-time Bible in Schools volunteer had led to the continuation of the classes.

While some Bible stories were shared during the classes, the values discussed in the lessons aligned with the school’s values, he said.

The debate over religious education has reiginited after the Secular Education Network (SEN) upped the ante in its campaign to ban religious instruction in state schools.

The group’s tactics had included approaching parents outside Christchurch schools last week, handing pamphlets out with information about the content of the classes.

However, the Churches Education Commission (CEC), the largest provider of religious education classes in state schools, criticised the SEN’s claims.

CEC spokeswoman Tracy Kirkley said the group’s claims about the lesson contents were out of date, as the organisation had updated its curriculum several years ago.

Volunteers now taught a “Life Choices” curriculum in 600 schools across the country, she said.

Gleniti School principal Steve Zonnevylle said the school offered a 20-minute religious education session once a week to year 5 and 6 classes, from which pupils could opt out.

Mr Zonnevylle said the school had surveyed parents about the class, which is run by the Gleniti Presbyterian Church, at the start of the year and would do so again at the end of the year.

While most parents seemed happy to have their children take part, about a quarter of the pupils were opting out of the classes.

Oceanview Heights School principal Sandi Abel said the school offered a weekly session for pupils from year to 5.

While most children took part, some pupils – some of whom were Hindu – opted out, she said.

Mrs Kirkley said the CEC had a waiting list of schools wanting a religious education programme, but the need could be met only when volunteers were available.