Over the last 2 years, the parents at FIRIS, along with respected academics and legal scholars have appealed to Dr. Sonia Sharp to listen to us. Today, her “leadership” was the subject of public scrutiny related to a horrific series of events in the UK, and our experience motivates us to give Dr. Sharp gets an F in leadership, and to endorse the call put out by opposition Leader Daniel Andrews who is looking for answers about how the Office of Student Wellbeing is managed.
Our direct experience attempting to get Dr. Sharp to help us in the matter of how our children are treated because of the SRI policy, is the opposite of what we expected from her office, and is completely consistent with the actions of a bureaucracy that places politics above the interests of children and families. The office which she oversees is staffed by good people who have suffered badly under what seems to us like a Potemkin Village that appears to be guided by concern for party politics, and not children or education.
A typical email exchange with Dr. Sonia Sharp reads as follows:
If Dr. Sharp has come to Australia, to provide leadership to the Department of Education, and to guide them in not hiding from political problems, you won’t find evidence of it in how she has responded to FIRIS.
Our view is that the leadership, and the most senior person charged with the welfare and protection, the nourishment, the advancement, the education of our kids, has failed miserably at dealing with matters FIRIS has brought to her office, and to watch the Minister roll back the hardly satisfactory reforms, is completely unacceptable to us.
This is an example where leadership was called for, and which has been completely lacking.
The situation was on full display last week when an angry group of so called “Christian Leaders” rounded up the Minister of Education in a private gathering inside Parliament house, to hear assurances that the Minister did not agree with his staff and that they had “over-reached” and that he was directing them to contact school principals and ask them to explain themselves.
What this amounts to, while of a different order of magnitude of the events recounted in the issue of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, is of the same type of behavior, a prioritisation of politics, that puts the interests of factional interest groups over the children in our schools. The DEECD does not need to account to “Christian Leaders” as to why there should not be “Ministry in Schools” – and all it needs to do is tell them that it is not in the business of negotiating with religious groups on how to run its schools.
If Dr. Sonia Sharp was or is going to offer any “leadership” in this matter, her chance has long since passed. The conduct of the Department has been to deny, stonewall and then, when fronted by the Australian Christian Lobby, to “roll back” the meager changes that clarified this issue for parents.
Contrary to Richard Bolt’s claims today in the media, his Deputy Dr. Sonia Sharp, has not acted in response to FIRIS with “maximum commitment, professionalism and focus”. She has stonewalled, abetted and avoided, dealing with a policy which does in fact need leaders who can bring clarity and resolve to dealing with controversy.
Last week, parents from FIRIS were asked by Richard Bolt, who is Dr. Sharp’s boss, to please stop publicly discussing the individual schools who have discontinued SRI, because it is causing political trouble.
Needless to say, FIRIS is not about to be silent, and the appearance of concern is not the same as leadership.
FIRIS can be contacted for media interviews, and to document the long and tortuous failings of the Department of Education in handling parent complaints in this matter.