Fairness in Religions in School (FIRIS) released its latest of online scripture curricula on 23 February 2018 containing disappointing but not unexpected findings that too many NSW scripture providers are failing to meet Department of Education policy requirements.
Since June 2013 it has been a requirement for approved school scripture providers to make a curriculum outline available online for parents.
Parents ought to be provided this information to enable them to make an informed decision about whether to enrol their children in scripture or not.
In December 2014 the independent ARTD Consultants’ review of scripture commissioned by the Department found that only just 39% of providers had SRE curriculum information accessible on a website.
Likewise FIRIS’ first audit in June 2016 also found that 61 of the then 105 providers (58%) did not have the required information available at the web address provided by the Department.
When the Department had this brought to their attention they replied that the information did not need to be at the web address provided by them, but rather just on a website, so since then FIRIS audits have involved simply looking to see if parents can at least find the name of the curriculum being used and then find some information about it somewhere on the internet.
The audit just completed is based on the list of providers updated on 16 February 2018.
Of the 106 approved providers FIRIS could not identify the curriculum used by 14 (13.2%) of them. Twelve of these 14 (11.3% of all SRE providers) have never been found compliant in FIRIS’ audits.
This is not good enough!
Scripture providers have had over five years to meet the simple requirement to have their curriculum information available on the internet.
The independent SRE reviewers ARTD Consultants should not have had to restate this requirement in 2015 in one of their recommendations.
Despite the Department’s scripture consultative committee supporting the ARTD Recommendation 18 that scripture providers should post a direct link to syllabus outlines on their websites, our audit found that, out of the 250 links to the 65 different curricula used, only 80 (32%) were directly linked to either a curriculum outline, syllabus outline, or a scope and sequence document.
Even in the case of the most used curriculum, only 4 out of the 53 links provided take parents directly to the curriculum outline. The rest require parents to navigate through the publisher’s main website or other websites, and one even takes parents to a completely different curriculum.
FIRIS also questions both the Department’s and the scripture committee’s appeal to the Annual Assurance process, not only due to the ongoing non-compliance of the 12 providers mentioned above, but also because only 5 (5%) of the links provided by the Department are directly to the webpage of a provider containing SRE information only.
FIRIS’ investigation into the integrity of the Annual Assurance has very quickly encountered issues which cast doubt on the willingness or ability of some scripture providers to meet even the simple requirements of the process: –
A current FOI/GIPA request for the Annual Assurances for 2017 and 2018 has required an amendment by the Department because some providers have reportedly not lodged their 2018 annual assurance by the due date.
What we have here is a lack of respect shown by some providers towards their obligation to transparency in the self-regulating system of scripture in NSW Government schools.
The ongoing non-compliance by some providers, the lengths parents/caregivers need to go to find the required information on the internet, and the questionable quality of a substantial portion of the information provided, demonstrates a lack of respect by many SRE providers for the rights of parents to information regarding their curricula.
How long do time-poor parents have to wait until they have easy access to adequate and honest information about what might be presented in scripture classrooms?
How long must parents and the wider community be subject to the self-regulated ‘confusopoly’ that is scripture in NSW public schools, where providers seemingly set out to confuse parents in order to ‘ease the sale’.