Since its release to the public in April 2017, the 2015 Review of SRE and SEE in NSW Government Schools (the Review) has been cherry-picked, misrepresented and abused by the Christian SRE lobby.
The abuse reached its peak recently when FIRIS had to correct the Catholic Weekly’s mis-attribution of the findings of an all-too-partial ‘study’ to the findings and conclusions of the independent Review commissioned by the NSW Department of Education.
Part one of our questioning, exploring and discovering of the misrepresentation of the findings of the Review will focus on the Christian SRE lobby’s use of statements made about the benefits of SRE.
Before we start to question, explore and discover Christian SRE, we thought it important to revisit why the Review was conducted in the first place.
Background to the 2015 Review of SRE and SEE in NSW Government Schools
Starting in February 2011, an amendment to the NSW Education Act 1990 allowed students not taking part in SRE to enrol in Special Education in Ethics (SEE) classes as a secular alternative to SRE.
Just over six months later Reverend Fred Nile introduced a bill to the Legislative Assembly seeking to remove SEE as an option.
In November 2011 a parliamentary committee was set up to determine whether SEE classes should stay in NSW public schools. In May 2012 the committee released its report recommending that they should remain.
During the committee’s inquiry, it was pointed out to them that it was too early to review SEE and that a review should be done once it was more established. It was argued that if there was to be a future investigation of SEE, “it would be outrageous discrimination if there were no parallel investigation of the other legal SRE options provided by religious groups.” (p. 67) The committee noted that SRE had not been reviewed for over 30 years, since the Rawlinson Report in 1980 (pp. 68-69).
Therefore, the committee also recommended that “a future independent review of both SEE and SRE be conducted by appropriately qualified early childhood educational reviewers in 2014-2015…” (Recommendation 14) and identified specified areas for the review to cover (pp. xvii & 69).
The committee did not, however, include in the recommended aims of the recommended review an investigation into whether SRE and SEE are beneficial or unbeneficial to students and whether they should continue in NSW Government schools.
In 2014, the NSW Department of Education commissioned ARTD Consultants to do the Review. The areas identified by the parliamentary committee became the basis for the Review’s Terms of Reference.
The ARTD reviewers examined the implementation of SRE and SEE in NSW Government schools between December 2014 and September 2015.
Their report, 2015 Review of SRE and SEE in NSW Government Schools (the Review) was finalised in March 2016, and presumably presented to the Department at that time. It was not released to the public until April 2017.
So, what claims are the Christian SRE lobby making regarding the Review’s statements about the benefits of SRE.
The statements of interest are on pages 76 and 77 of the Review –
- SRE “contributes to a well-rounded education and provides students with a values perspective to make informed ethical choices.”
- SRE “contributes to students’ understanding of their cultural heritage and is an avenue for their spiritual care.”
- SRE “builds tolerance in schools around diverse communities and promotes multiculturalism through joint celebrations of different faith groups and the recognition of different cultural heritages.”
- SRE “is community building and helps connect schools with the local community.”
Let’s look at how these statements have been used by Christian SRE lobby.
McCrindle and the Review
FIRIS is not aware of who commissioned McCrindle to summarise the findings of the review but notes the mention of ChristianSRE in the URL for the visual summary – https://mccrindle.com.au/wp-content/uploads/ChristianSRE_ARTDInfographic_Infographic1_DIGITAL_McCrindle_MAY2017.pdf (emphasis added)
Regardless of who commissioned the review, on 30 May 2017 a McCrindle representative presenting this summary at NSW Parliament House. Education Minister Rob Stokes, Shadow Minister Jihad Dib, and the Christian Democratic Party MLC, Mr Paul Green, the host of the event, also addressed an audience reportedly made up of representatives from most of the major providers of SRE.
In photo – (L to R) Bishop Peter Ingham, Eliane Miles (McCrindle rep), Education Minister Rob Stokes, The Hon Paul Green, Shadow Minister Jihad Dib, ChristianSRE’s Murray Norman and unidentified person.
The McCrindle website stated –
The Review highlighted how SRE contributes to students’ understanding of their cultural heritage and is an avenue for their spiritual care. Further, it noted that the work of SRE teachers builds tolerance in schools, promotes multiculturalism, contributes to a well-rounded education, and connects schools with their local community.
McCrindle’s SRE in schools visual summary infographic also listed the reported ‘benefits of providing SRE’ and linked them to the Department’s Wellbeing Framework (white text on blue background) –
ChristianSRE and the Review
The ChristianSRE website, on its page ‘Review of SRE – What you need to know‘ also includes the statements from the Review –
Furthermore, knowing that changes in the enrolment process were coming in 2019 – which prevent children being placed in SRE without express consent – ChristianSRE launched a saturation-marketing campaign in the latter half of 2018.
Part of that campaign was the printing and distribution of 760,000 brochures intended to “carry the info campaign to parents at more than 2100 state schools.”
The NSW Government published the independent SRE review findings and recommendations in 2017. [emphasis added]
So why does all of this point to a bankruptcy of integrity?
FIRIS is not claiming that the statements in question cannot be found in the 2015 Review of SRE and SEE.
FIRIS is claiming, however, that these statements are not the findings, in the sense of being the conclusions, of the ARTD reviewers.
What the Christian SRE lobby does not mention, is the fact that an investigation into the perceived benefits of SRE was not included in the Terms of Reference for the Review.
Despite this, and potentially revealing an underlying bias, the Review chose to include sections on the perceived benefits of SRE and SEE. The reviewers wrote –
Although not one of the Terms of Reference for the Review, perceptions of the benefits of SRE are pertinent to the assessment of the implementation of SRE. The Reviewers have briefly documented the common views about the benefits of SRE, as expressed in contributions to the Review. However, there is no objective data about the benefits and nor was systematic data on beliefs about benefits collected, because the structure of surveys and submissions closely reflected the Terms of Reference. [p. 76] (emphasis added)
So the content of these sections are merely the claims, assertions and opinions of contributors to the Review.
It is interesting to note that the reviewers wrote regarding the online community consultation and contributions –
The Reviewers recognise that while the responses reflect significant issues for those who responded, to some degree they reflect the two polarised positions in the community around SRE and SEE, and cannot be considered as representative of the whole NSW community. Indeed, the Reviewers are aware that some groups were active in encouraging their constituents to contribute, and in some cases suggested wording. (p. xiii)
Unfortunately though, it seems the reviewers did not equally regard the contributions of those who documented existing and foreseeable risks related to the presence of SRE in our public schools, or those who perceive SRE as unbeneficial and potentially harmful to students, as being pertinent to their assessment of the implementation of SRE.
But let’s get back to the point.
This letter sent to ICCOREIS (read ChristianSRE) regarding its media releases and the ChristianSRE brochures was recently forwarded to FIRIS –
As the parent states towards the end of this letter –
The flyer is misleading in that it implies these are the proven benefits of SRE which were among ARTD’s actual findings, and it could leave some readers with the impression that the NSW Government itself concurs.
FIRIS agrees with this parent and believes that reasonable members of the NSW public would be justified in concluding that McCrindle and ChristianSRE are presenting the claims and assertions made by SRE supporters in a way which maximises the chance of them being perceived as the substantiated conclusions and findings of the ARTD reviewers.
The parent’s letter ends with a statement of hope that in consideration of the above, ICCOREIS will be prompted “to form and publicly present a balanced view of SRE in future.”
Unfortunately, given ICCOREIS’ previous history of not even acknowledging letters questioning the validity of their claims regarding SRE, FIRIS holds out no hope.