Education Council of Aotearoa NZ interview with Chris Hipkins

Chris Hipkins on inclusiveness & bullying

Chris Hipkins on inclusiveness & bullying

Earlier this month, the Education Council of Aotearoa NZ, asked for questions to put to Education Minister, Chris Hipkins.

I seized the opportunity and posted;

Why is Labour continuing to support religious instruction in secular state primary schools, when in 2001 the Ministry of Education received Crown Legal advice that it had no defence against a claim of direct discrimination under the Human Rights Act?

They responded and asked if they could use my name, which I agreed to, also providing them with a link to the document provided under an official information act request.

A couple of days before the interview, I messaged them and asked what they thought about an article I wrote on the NZEI supporting religious instruction in secular primary schools when there was Crown Legal advice that it had no defence against a claim of direct discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993.

“How does your organisation feel about this?”

Hi Dave, thanks for sending a question. This isn’t an issue we would get involved in mostly because it’s not about the profession so it’s outside our mandate. Have a good week!

Yet another organisation supposedly dedicated to a profession that is all about nurturing children’s’ education evading questions about discrimination of the very same children. So I challenged them, pointing out that their own code of conduct requires them to stand up for the inclusiveness and diversity that Bible classes so carelessly cast aside!

Did you read the article? It absolutely is about the profession if you regard protecting the human rights of children within the classroom as a professional responsibility?

Not to mention that teachers have to step aside while religious evangelicals take their place and assume their authority.

I refer you to section 2.3 of your Draft 2017 Code of Conduct…



“dismissing or belittling their personal, cultural, religious or spiritual beliefs”

Unfortunately, references to respecting religious and spiritual beliefs seem to have been dropped in the current code of conduct. However, the code still refers to respecting diversity and promoting inclusive practices. Religious instruction ignores diversity and encourages segregation rather than inclusiveness.

I understand that a teacher standing aside and saying nothing while the school is closed to allow Christian religious instruction is not promoting this but it is condoning it, usually while the teacher is still in the room. The non-Christian families are then forced to either segregate their children from their own classroom to maintain the conviction of their beliefs or suffer the imposition of religious indoctrination in the hope that they will “fit in” and not get brainwashed.

I suggest that allowing one religious group to promote their faith in a secular school is not only ignoring the purpose of secular schools but is also dismissive and disrespectful to the religious views of all families (and teachers) who don’t hold the same views.

It would be a betrayal of the profession to ask teachers to maintain a standard of conduct for the children in their classes that they then relinquish as soon as a Bible teacher enters the room.

No response was forthcoming. What would they say? They have no credible defence.

A day or two later, the live Q&A session with Chris Hipkins took place on their facebook page. My question wasn’t asked and although they took questions from the live audience (which seemed pretty small), they ignored two more live questions from watchers that were related to religious instruction. This is not an issue they want to be associated with!

Nevertheless, the interview had some interesting parallels. Chris spoke on inclusiveness and bullying saying; “…when I said I want them [schools] to be inclusive, I also want them to be an environment where everyone is respected for who they are…”. This was in relation to children with special needs and disabilities but it also relates directly to children with a cultural or religious background that is not Christian. Should they not also be respected for who they are? Is promoting Christian religious faith in their non-religious school respectful to them?

Chris has a history of making pretty clear statements about religious instruction. In 2014, he was interviewed by Stuff about schools changing to an “opt-in” system for Bible classes;

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said religion in schools was a ”vexed area”, and he would be open to a review of its inclusion in the Education Act.

And in 2017, prior to the election, I asked him what Labour’s policy on religious instruction was. He stated both his own opinion and Labour’s stance;

Personally, I have always believed that religious instruction should not take place during regular school hours. As you’ve noted, children from non-Christian families often end up feeling excluded, which is not acceptable.

In the past, Labour has been supportive of a review of the current policy, but unfortunately, the National Government has been opposed to this. A Labour-led government would be open to a review and change of religious instruction in state schools.

It is absolutely true that National have always shut down any discussion of the removal of religious instruction. However, now he is the Education Minister, there is no hint of a review of religious instruction in the Education Act.  Worse, he has asked the Ministry of Education to provide guidelines for religious instruction that would only further entrench it further into our secular education system!

Unfortunately for Chris and the Ministry of Education, the fact that Crown Legal already advised back in 2001 of the conflict between the legislation allowing religious instruction and the Human Rights Act 1993, they are in a very difficult position.  As we already have advice that Religious Instruction has “… no defence against a claim of direct discrimination… “, they can’t produce any guidelines for it without also ignoring the Human Rights Act and condoning religious discrimination. This is why the guidelines they were supposed to be producing in 2015 have never materialised and I suspect that they never will. It’s just a delay tactic in order to string out the process as much as possible. The question is, how do they get away with it?

The answer is because almost every organisation in government and the private sector directly involved with education is complicit in allowing it to continue unchallenged. It’s because they are more concerned with protecting their own status quo than they are with the welfare of children in regard to religious discrimination. They have no excuses.

The Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand seems content to join the list of other organisations that are happy to sit on their hands and do nothing when they should be standing up for the children who are forced out of their own classrooms, coerced into religious indoctrination, bullied and mistreated by the teachers, board members, school administration, evangelical church volunteers and parents who make it happen.

You can watch the video interview with Chris Hipkins here. Let me know what you think in the comments below!


  1. This video had inaudible volume. However, it is my opinion that religion should be taught to the older pupils in primary schools for at least a term. Not with the goal of indoctrination but for educational information that covers, (at least), all the major global religions.

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree. There is a proposal to teach religion from an academic perspective. However, the Religious Diversity Centre that produced recommendations seemed somewhat biased towards mainstream religions, refused input from atheist groups and still wanted to teach very young children. To my mind, their recommendations were still too close to indoctrination. I reviewed their report here.

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