Other activities of a religious nature in schools

Direction and guidance to schools and providers on delivering general religious education and voluntary student activities of a religious nature in schools.


All schools, department officers and volunteers providing voluntary student activities of a religious nature in schools.

Version Date Description of changes Approved by
V02.0.0 10/05/2024 Updated under the 2023 Policy and procedure review program, including conversion into the new template and improving readability. Executive Director, Curriculum and Reform

About the policy

Term Definition

General religious education

Delivered in schools through the NSW Education Standards Authority syllabuses, and which includes education about the world’s major religions, what people believe and how that belief affects their lives. For further information, refer to NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA).

Voluntary student activities of a religious nature in schools (VSA)

Any activity of a religious nature, such as student- or volunteer-led prayer groups. It may be run by religious organisations.

It is not part of special religious education (SRE) and is not part of the school or SRE curriculum. For further information see the Voluntary activities page of Religion and ethics.

Special religious education (SRE)

The beliefs and practices of an approved religious persuasion, delivered by authorised representatives of that persuasion. It is the distinctive religious tenets and beliefs of the home and family, provided by the churches and other religious groups for children of parents expressing the desire that they receive such teaching. For further information refer to the Special religious education and special education in ethics procedures.


  • allow for the teaching of general religious education
  • may choose to allow for voluntary student activities of a religious nature.

Directors, Educational Leadership:

  • monitor the implementation of general religious education
  • resolve implementation issues between the school, its community and providers.

Director, Curriculum Early Years and Primary Learners:

  • provides curriculum support for general religious education
  • monitors the implementation of the policy and reports, as required, to the Learning Improvement Executive Group
  • advises the department on the policy and its implementation.

Special Religious Education and Special Education in Ethics Officer:

  • provides advice on interpreting and implementing the policy
  • liaises with principals and Directors, Educational Leadership on matters relating to religious education.

What needs to be done

1. Schools manage delivery of general religious education

Religion and religious references can be found in many fields of study and permeate some aspects of the school curriculum and student activities.

If a school community views religion or religious references in curriculum delivery or student activities controversial, the school must refer to the Controversial issues in schools policy, which provides directions on how to manage controversial issues raised in teaching and learning material or content presented by teachers or visiting speakers.

Principals can use external curriculum-related programs from a religious persuasion, but only if they do not implicitly or explicitly promote that persuasion.

As part of general religious education, schools may wish to use or to write school prayers. Schools will need to consult with their community about the prayers – which should be interdenominational Christian or multi-faith to reflect community diversity – and the types of occasions on which they would be used.

Schools may hold an event that contains religious elements such as school commemorations, religious observances and multi-faith services, they will need to:

  • consult with their community about holding events that contain religious elements
  • inform parents and carers of the nature of the event, and the option to withdraw their child from any general religious education (Education Act 1990, section 33)
  • provide alternative activities or supervision in another area of the school for students not participating.

Schools may invite special religious education (SRE) providers to be part of these events (for example, Education Week, Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and school centenaries).

If a school decides a multi-faith service is appropriate, schools should apply these principles:

  • ensure no religious groups or individuals are pressured to compromise their faith for the sake of holding the service
  • invite all religious leaders in the local community to participate and help in the service preparation
  • set up a local committee to develop the service, ensuring adequate representation from all relevant religious groups.

2. Schools manage voluntary student activities of a religious nature

Principals may choose to support and supervise voluntary student activities of a religious nature (VSA). These are not part of general religious education or special religious education. Examples include:

  • prayer groups led by students or volunteers
  • religious discussion groups led by students or volunteers
  • talks organised by visitors of religious organisations
  • distribution of religious materials to students, when it supports local community expectations.

These activities may be conducted in or outside school premises. Principals (refer to Principal checklist (DOCX 52 KB) must ensure they:

  • inform parents and carers about the VSA, including appropriate alternatives for those students not participating if there is a whole stage or school activity
  • obtain parent or carer permission
  • perform appropriate child protection checks and practices for any external volunteers (see the Working with children check policy)
  • monitor the content of the activities and proposed teaching materials
  • maintain an attendance register for participating students, contact details for VSA volunteers or teachers, and a list of students leading activities
  • ensure students or members of religious persuasions do not attempt to proselytise or convert (behaviours intended to put pressure on students who do not have permission to participate in the VSA) non-adherents of their religion during school-authorised activities.

If a parent or carer sends their child to an event planned by an external organisation, which is not supported by the principal, the absence would be recorded as unjustified (Student attendance in NSW public schools procedures).

3. Parents or carers may apply for exemption from classes when they conscientiously object on religious grounds

A parent or carer may give written notice that they conscientiously object on religious grounds to their child being taught a particular part of a course of study (section 26 of the Education Act 1990).

‘A course of study’ is part of the curriculum and refers to the key learning areas (such as English; mathematics; personal development, health and physical education [PDHPE]). The syllabus documents for key learning areas are on the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) website and provide details of the parts of each key learning area.

If a parent or carer has concerns about what their child is learning in class, they should first:

  • speak with their child’s teacher, who can provide them with further information about the curriculum
  • speak with the school principal if they continue to have concerns.

To apply for a certificate of exemption, parents or carers will need to send written notice to curriculumenquiry@det.nsw.edu.au and include the following information:

  • student’s name
  • school
  • year
  • principal’s name
  • confirmation they have raised their concerns with the principal
  • subject or key learning area and term it will be taught
  • topic or part of the course of study that is being objected to
  • specific source of religious objection – authority (for example, Bible, Koran, Torah), chapter, verse and confirmation of its general adherence by members of the faith
  • details of a religious authority who may be contacted for further information about the religious nature of the request
  • child’s view about exemption where the child is in secondary school.

An example of an email or letter is provided below:

I am writing to conscientiously object to my child [insert name] in year [insert year] at [insert school] attending a class in [key learning area] on [topic] in Term [insert term number] on religious grounds.

The religious grounds include …….

I rely on [insert religious text, chapter verse].

Contact details are provided for [insert name and contact details of religious authority] who can be contacted to provide information about the religious nature of the request.

I raised my concerns with the principal [insert name] at [insert school] on [insert date].

Parents or carers do not need a certificate of exemption for school programs and activities not related to the curriculum. In these cases, parents or carers may request their children do not participate in school programs and activities, such as assemblies, special days or guest speakers. Refer to the Controversial issues in schools policy and procedures.

The Executive Director, Curriculum and Reform will:

  • review the written notice
  • grant a certificate of exemption if the objection is accepted or decline the request
  • notify the parent or carer, principal and Director, Educational Leadership of the decision.

Certificates of exemption may be given subject to conditions or cancelled at any time.

Parents or carers should allow at least 3 weeks for a decision.

A parent or carer may seek a review of the decision by emailing curriculumenquiry@det.nsw.edu.au.

Students will continue to attend classes until a certificate of exemption is issued.

4. Schools may engage a chaplain through the National Student Wellbeing Program

Schools may apply for a school chaplain to support the emotional wellbeing of students, through the National Student Wellbeing Program.

Supporting tools resources and related information

Policy contact

The Director, Curriculum Early Years and Primary Learners monitors the implementation of this procedure, regularly reviews its contents to ensure relevance and accuracy, and updates it as needed.

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