On 9 September 2019 FIRIS wrote to the NSW Minister for Education, the Hon. Sarah Mitchell MLC, informing her of the findings of an audit of the websites of secondary schools in the Metropolitan North region. FIRIS expressed concerns regarding the high likelihood that students were being placed in SRE without the express written consent of parents and carers.
FIRIS also informed the Minister that this concern was included in FIRIS’ significant complaint to the Office of the Children’s Guardian (OCG) and the NSW Office of the Advocate for Children and Young People (ACYP) regarding the risks to student health, safety and wellbeing associated with the provision of SRE in NSW Government schools, particularly those risks arising from the widespread failure of the Department to ensure policies and procedures were being followed.
In consideration of the above, FIRIS requested information regarding the measures the Department would take to ensure that no student was being, or would be in future, placed in an SRE classroom without the informed and express consent of their parent/s or carer/s.
On 25 September 2019 Dr Paul Wood (Director, Early and Primary Education) responded to FIRIS’ correspondence dated 9 September 2019. Dr Wood stated that FIRIS’ comments had been noted and, given that FIRIS had submitted complaints to the OCG and ACYP that “the Department will await any contact and recommendations from these organisations.”
FIRIS received no further correspondence from either the Minister or the Department regarding the findings of the audits or the request for information in the letter dated 9 September 2019.
On 8 November 2019 FIRIS sent a second letter of complaint to the Minister based on the findings of an audit of the websites of 363 primary schools in the Rural North school region. FIRIS expressed concerns at the ongoing failure of the Department of Education to ensure that the rights of parents and carers to information were being respected. An even greater concern expressed to the Minister was the finding of evidence that students were being placed in SRE without express written consent from parents and carers.
FIRIS asked the Minister to direct all principals of NSW public schools to conduct an audit of student records to ensure that only students with express written consent on file were taking part in SRE.
The letter above and all of its supporting documents to the Minister via registered post.
FIRIS received confirmation from Australia Post that the registered post was delivered to the Minister’s postal address.
A copy of the letter and all of its attachments along with a request for a response were also provided to –
- Ms Prue Car, the NSW Shadow Minister for Education
- Mr David Shoebridge
- NSW Teachers’ Federation
- NSW P&C Federation
- NSW Primary Principals’ Association
- NSW Secondary Principals’ Council
On 9 December 2019, given that FIRIS had received no correspondence from the Minister, FIRIS wrote to Ms Prue Car (NSW Shadow Minister for Education) requesting assistance to obtain a response from the Minister.
On 20 January 2020, given that FIRIS had not received a response from the Minister, FIRIS wrote to Ms Prue Car for a second time requesting assistance.
On 11 February 2020, given that FIRIS had still not received a response from either the Minister or the Shadow Minister, FIRIS wrote to the local member for Newcastle in the NSW Parliament, Mr Tim Crakanthorp. Given that the head office of FIRIS NSW is located in Newcastle, FIRIS called upon Mr Crakanthorp to assist FIRIS obtain a response from the Minister to the correspondence dated 8 November 2019.
On 11 February 2020 a representative from Mr Crakanthorp’s office informed FIRIS that the Minister’s office had claimed that FIRIS’ November 2019 complaint had not been received. FIRIS was informed that Mr Crakanthorp would provide the Minister with a copy of the November 2019 complaint and all of its supporting documents.
On 14 May 2020 Mr Crakanthorp advised FIRIS that the Minister’s office had informed him that the Minister would not be responding to FIRIS’ correspondence dated 8 November 2019.
It should also be noted that FIRIS received no response to the correspondence sent to the NSW P&C Federation or the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council at the same time as the initial complaint sent to the Minister. In fact, the package sent to the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council was returned to FIRIS’ office unopened.