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Question and explore the Christian SRE lobby’s marketing campaign to discover a bankruptcy in integrity – Part One

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

According to the McCrindle website, McCrindle was commissioned to review the findings and summarise the key data into this SRE in Schools visual summary.

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.

Both the primary and secondary versions of the brochures contain the reported benefits of SRE from the 2015 Review –

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 –

Download (PDF, 607KB)

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.

A lesson in how not to allow good journalism get in the way of a desperate story

In the face of the threat of falling attendance figures for Special Religious Education (SRE aka ‘scripture’) and opposition from peak bodies representing professional educators in NSW, the scripture lobby are desperately trying to market their damaged and out-of-date product in 21st Century multi-cultural and multi-belief NSW society.

With the marketing campaign for SRE have come misleading and dubious statements in all forms of media. In many cases, FIRIS ignores them as indications of the desperation of SRE apologists and lobbyists.

However, every now and then an article is published or statements are made which are so easily seen as gross misrepresentations of the facts that FIRIS has to respond. One classic example is the SRE lobby’s proclamation of their respect for ‘choice’.

More recent examples are articles in the Catholic Weekly and J-Wire (the digital Jewish news daily for Australia and New Zealand). These articles were written in response to the announcement by the NSW Teachers Federation of their new policy position regarding the removal of SRE from NSW public schools.

In the article ‘Religion classes under fire’ the following statements were made to justify SRE –

However, the NSW government’s Independent Review of SRE, from which recommendations were released in 2017, found SRE contributed to students’ wellbeing and was “an important part of the rich tapestry of contemporary Australian life.”

The Review stated that SRE provided, “an effective values education that empowers student decision making, fosters student action and assigns real student responsibility.”

It also found SRE strengthened the “multicultural fabric” of Australian schools, provided “important psychological benefits to students’ health and wellbeing,” and created “safe places for students to explore deeper questions of identity.”  [emphasis added]

The only ‘NSW government Independent Review of SRE’ conducted in the last 39 years was carried out by ARTD Consultants in 2015. The final report was given to the Department in March 2016 but was not released to the public until April 2017.

Therefore, when the author was unable to locate any of the statements in bold above in this report, he wrote to the Catholic Weekly and asked for the references. The Catholic Weekly responded –

…thanks for pointing out this error. The study quoted was actually the Study of Special Religious Education and its Value to Contemporary Society co-authored by Associate Professor Zehavit Gross at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and Sydney University’s Professor Emerita, Suzanne Rutland. It was presented to the NSW Premier at the Parliamentary Celebration of SRE in 2018. The article has been amended. We apologise for the error.

The article was then amended to read –

However, a study of SRE released at the 2018 Parliamentary Celebration of SRE, found that SRE contributed to students’ wellbeing and was “an important part of the rich tapestry of contemporary Australian life.”

The Study of SRE and its Value to Contemporary Society was co-authored by Associate Professor Zehavit Gross at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and Sydney University’s Professor Emerita, Suzanne Rutland.

The review stated that SRE provided, “an effective values education that empowers student decision making, fosters student action and assigns real student responsibility.” 

There is a huge difference between this ‘study’ and the review commissioned by the Department. Therefore, to mistake the two may be seen by a reasonable member of the NSW public as pretty sloppy journalism.

Whatever, the case may be, it seems that getting their facts straight is a hard thing to do for SRE apologists and those with vested interests.

In a second article published by the Catholic Weekly, ‘Bishop slams Teachers Federation‘, Bishop Brian Mascord of Wollongong questioned why the Federation sought to have the classes removed despite the many benefits for students, which have been affirmed by the NSW government’s independent review…” In both the Catholic Weekly article and J-Wire’s article ‘Bishop joins push to retain religious education in NSW schools‘, the Bishop is reported as stating –

“It is difficult to comprehend why the federation would wish to jettison the positive developmental, educational and cultural impacts that SRE has on young people—a view that was confirmed by the NSW Government’s Independent Review of SRE released in 2017.”

However, as in the case of the first article discussed above, FIRIS is not sure what other ‘NSW Government’s Independent Review of SRE released in 2017′ the Bishop could be referring to. It could not be the 2015 Review of SRE and SEE conducted by ARTD Consultants because an investigation into the benefits of SRE and SEE was not within the scope of the Terms of Reference.

Even when the reviewers went outside the Terms of Reference and included sections on the perceived benefits of SRE and SEE, these benefits were not the conclusions of the reviewers, but were rather ‘the benefits…as perceived by many of those who made a contribution to the Review.’ [p. 160] 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.  (emphasis added) [p. 76]

Unfortunately, the reviewers did not 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.

Nonetheless, in consideration of –

  • the absence of any other Government review of SRE conducted since 1980 leading to the conclusion that he is referring to the ARTD review
  • the inability of FIRIS to find evidence to confirm the statement from the Bishop that the ARTD reviewers confirmed that SRE has ‘positive developmental, educational and cultural impacts’ on young people
  • the Bishop’s statement seeming to be the second instance of the Catholic Weekly publishing questionable references to the 2015 Review of SRE and SEE in NSW Government Schools –

– a reasonable member of the NSW public might be justified in starting to regard the attribution of the limited study’s findings to the ARTD review, and the questionable references to the Review, as far too convenient ‘mistakes’ made in order to serve the desperate interests of the scripture lobby.

ChristianSRE were quick to share the article and even when asked by a supporter to provide references for the statements in question included in the first article above, they continued to link the references to the ARTD Independent Review rather than identify the error in the journalist’s statements.

Poor quality control from an organisation whose motto is ‘Question. Explore. Discover.’

So why is all of this a problem?

All of the above demonstrates that SRE providers and apologists are far too often, at best, ignorant of information that they should not be ignorant of but are nevertheless unwise enough to comment on, or, at worst, they intentionally provide misleading information in an attempt to make SRE appear to the uncritical and unquestioning eye as that which it is not.

Either way, it is no wonder that the peak bodies representing professional educators, including the NSW Teachers Federation and the Secondary Principals’ Council, have had enough oand want SRE removed from NSW public schools.

Teflon bureaucrats and a principal’s burden; or, How to ignore the lessons of a Royal Commission

Nowhere is the ridiculousness of the out-of-date 19th Century provisions for Special Religious Education (SRE or ‘scripture’) in the NSW Education Act 1990 more evident than in the number of religious organisations approved to provide SRE in NSW Government primary and secondary schools.

The current list of SRE providers identifies 100 providers.

Each provider has the authority to develop its own curriculum and lesson content and to select and authorise the instructors who deliver the lessons.

When it comes to accountability, all the Department can do is to rely on the word of providers that they are doing the right thing. SRE providers do this by submitting an annual assurance that their curriculum is taught in an age-appropriate way and that they have child protection systems in place.

Previous audits conducted by FIRIS have revealed the gross inadequacy of this strategy for managing the risks that come with SRE.

The 2015 Review of SRE  also found that “neither providers nor the Department monitors compliance in any systematic way.” [p. xviii & p. 42]

Therefore, the parents, caregivers and citizens that make up FIRIS have to do it for them.

One important task taken up by FIRIS is monitoring the changes to the list of approved providers.

Now, one would think that the removal of a provider’s approval to deliver SRE would be something taken quite seriously given the risks related to child protection and child safety.

Reasonable members of the NSW public would expect that the Department would be doing whatever it could to prevent unauthorised adults gaining access to NSW public school students.

But this is not the case.

Over the course of 2018 there were 17 versions of the list of approved providers released by the Department with 27 amendments made over the course of the year.

Of the 27 amendments, ten involved the removal of a provider from the list, and another four involved the temporary removal of a provider from the list for periods ranging from approximately 14 to 35 days.

On 19 November 2018 FIRIS wrote to the Director, Early Learning and Primary Education asking him to provide FIRIS with information regarding the measures taken by him or the Department to communicate to principals the amendments made to the list of approved providers. In particular, FIRIS wanted to know if and/or how principals were informed of the removal of a SRE provider from the list, enabling them to ensure that only authorised representatives of approved SRE providers are accessing NSW public school students.

Download (PDF, 200KB)

After waiting three weeks for an answer, on 11 December 2018 FIRIS wrote to the Secretary of the Department.

Download (PDF, 304KB)

On 14 January 2019, given the seeming failure of both the Secretary or the Director to respond, FIRIS wrote to the NSW Ombudsman.

On 15 January 2019, FIRIS received the following response from the Director, Early Learning and Primary Education –

Download (PDF, 85KB)

It seems that the Director required over six working weeks to come up with the answer that it is the responsibility of time-poor and overburdened principals, teachers, parents and caregivers to monitor the list.

FIRIS does not understand why the Primary Principals’ Association or the Secondary Principals’ Council tolerate the Department’s transferal of the responsibility onto their shoulders thereby exposing them to professional risks.

FIRIS would also like to think that the Parents and Citizens Federation of NSW would be concerned that the Department relies on parents and caregivers using a reactive complaints process to manage the risks related to child protection and child safety resulting from the lack of a systems-wide response.

It is obviously too much for a reasonable person to expect, in this age of electronic mail and distribution lists, that the Director or his delegate send a bulk email informing principals that a SRE provider has had their approval withdrawn.

A reasonable member of the NSW public would be justified in questioning whether the Department has learnt any lessons from the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, particularly given that one of the providers removed from the list was an Anglican Diocese.

A reasonable member of the NSW public would also be justified in questioning whether the Department is doing its utmost to fulfil its duty of care to all NSW public school students.

 

 

To hell with accountability! The NSW Department of Education’s complicity in the confusopoly of scripture in high schools

In the second of FIRIS’ Special Religious Education (SRE) School Report Cards we reported on Cherrybrook Technology High School (CTHS), awarding the school an ‘F’ for, amongst other things, failing to demonstrate a respect for the rights of students and their parents / caregivers to information.

In both the Report Cards for CTHS and Chatswood High School (CHS), a fundamental problem is the difficulty parents and caregivers face when trying to determine who the approved SRE providers are at the schools.

The Department’s the Religious Education Implementation Procedures (the Procedures) state –

Parents/caregivers have the right to know how special religious education will be organised each year and which religious organisations will deliver it.

This information is provided through enrolment information, the school website and school newsletter… 

It is the responsibility of the school to ensure parents/caregivers and the wider community are aware of special religious
education and alternative activities offered at the school. [emphasis added]

That sounds all well and good in theory, but at the school level FIRIS has not found any significant information regarding scripture on the CTHS website or in any of the 32 newsletters released by the school in 2018.

The independent 2015 Review of SRE and SEE in NSW Government Schools  (the Review) identified that the Religious Education Implementation Procedures (the Procedures) set out essentially a form of self-regulation for the delivery of SRE in NSW Government schools (p. 34). The reviewers noted –

Self-regulation in public policy always involves rights and responsibilities. For SRE, the rights relate to the ability of providers to access schools, and determine teachers and curriculum…A closely related responsibility under self-regulation is transparency to parents, the Department, school communities and the wider public, through publication of important information and the provision of regular monitoring. (p. 34)

Now it seems that the inability and/or the unwillingness of both the principal and the SRE providers to make public information regarding the approved SRE providers involved at CTHS  prevents parents, caregivers and the wider community from being able to make an informed choice regarding SRE.

Now SRE apologists will say that if people want information they should just contact the school or the Department.

However, let’s see what happens if you follow that advice.

(FIRIS apologises for repeating some information shared but it is important to share it again so readers can see the stonewalling machinations of the Department.)

On 13 September 2018 FIRIS wrote to the Director, Early Learning and Primary Education (the Director responsible for monitoring the provision of SRE) requesting information about the combined arrangement at CTHS –

Download (PDF, 106KB)

On 2 October 2018 FIRIS received the following answer –

Download (PDF, 312KB)

In response to the perceived lack of appropriate responses to the six specific questions regarding the combined arrangement at CTHS, FIRIS lodged a complaint with the Executive Director, Learning and Teaching –

Download (PDF, 212KB)

This complaint is currently under investigation.

On 16 October 2018 FIRIS also wrote to the principal of CTHS –

Download (PDF, 104KB)

Given the lack of any response from the principal to our correspondence within 15 working days, on 12 November 2018 FIRIS lodged a complaint with the Director, Educational Leadership responsible for CTHS –

Download (PDF, 135KB)

On 27 November 2018 FIRIS received the following email response from the Director, Educational Leadership –

Download (PDF, 164KB)

So it seems that it is not only the providers at CTHS who are unable and / or unwilling to fulfil the obligation of transparency in the self-regulating system that is SRE. It can be seen in the Director’s response above, that the Department believes that principals are under no obligation to respond to questions from FIRIS, a parents’ advocacy group, and that the Department is under no obligation to ensure transparency when it comes to combined arrangements.

It seems that the Department dismisses the need for advocacy and that they believe parents should be able to sort it out for themselves at the school level. The Department has little regard for the concerns of parents and caregivers that their children will be marginalised in response to questions or complaints.

Therefore, FIRIS feels that it is necessary to share an email sent to us by a NSW Department of Education employed teacher which clearly demonstrates the need for advocacy. This email was sent in response to our efforts on behalf of a parent who raised concerns to their child’s school executive regarding their implementation of the Procedures  –

This is what parents and caregivers are up against in NSW public schools when it comes to SRE.

So for its lack of transparency and for its disregard for the concerns of parents and caregivers about speaking out FIRIS gives the NSW Department of Education a resounding FAIL.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make way for the Sydney Anglicans, there’s NSW public school students to be harvested!

Remember the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, that charming religious organisation –

  • that contributed $1 million dollars to the No campaign in the same-sex marriage postal survey
  • that reportedly is considering the introduction of a property policy to ensure church-owned buildings are used only for “acts or practices which conform to the doctrines, tenets and beliefs of the diocese”, that is, that it would be inappropriate to use church-owned property for “advocacy for transgender ideology (e.g gender-fluidity)” and “advocacy for expressions of human sexuality contrary to our doctrine of marriage”
  • who published scripture materials deemed by the Queensland Department of Education and Training to contain materials that –
    • were “inappropriate for the target age group” (topics including murder, prostitution and animal sacrifice)
    • “may encourage undesirable child safe behaviours”, such as the keeping of secrets and the formation of ‘special friendships’ with adults
    • had “the potential to affect the social and emotional wellbeing of particular students”
    • posed risks to health and safety, such as mixing bleach and cordial in front of children
    • were aimed at converting students to Christianity
  • who even after reportedly reviewing their materials in response to the QLD DET’s report, still demonstrated their inability to self-regulate their own behaviour and self-assess their material as age-appropriate and instructed SRE ‘teachers’ to have six-year-old children mime being choked to help them understand what happens if you don’t listen to God.
  • who reportedly promoted messages in secondary SRE classes regarding ‘headship’, that is, their belief that women should submit to their husbands as their leader in order to emulate the gospel and model the way in which “God’s people yield to the headship of Christ.”

– if you do, you might be interested in knowing that on Tuesday (20 November 2018) the Anglican Diocese of Sydney was given two chairs on the NSW Department of Education’s SRE Consultative Committee.

According to the Department the Committee and the Special Education in Ethics Committee provide advice to the Department about SRE and SEE

The committees provide an opportunity for the department and key stakeholders to engage in dialogue regarding matters relating to special religious education and special education in ethics in NSW Government schools.

However, if one follows the history of the amendments to the enrolment process since 2013 one would be justified in concluding that the SRE Committee drives Department policy decision making and ensures that the self-interests of religious groups are met at the expense of the rights of a large cohort of the NSW public school community.

Therefore, parents, caregivers and NSW citizens should be very concerned that a religious organisation which promotes values contrary to the values of public education is now able to play a part in directing the policy decisions of the NSW Department of Education.

However, it might not be that much of a shock to reasonable members of the NSW public who have been wondering at what point the NSW Minister for Education and the Secretary of the Department of Education should be asked to answer questions about any conflicts of choice they might have in the decision to grant seats on the Committee to their church.

It should also be noted that the Sydney Anglicans have vested financial interests in the ongoing presence of SRE in NSW public schools given that their publishing arm, Youthworks, is responsible for Connect and Think Faith, two of the most used SRE curriculum in NSW schools.

A reasonable member of the NSW public might begin to think that it is not a matter of chance that one of the Sydney Anglican’s representatives on the SRE Committee is also the CEO of Youthworks.

In addition to their position on the SRE Committee, it seems that the Sydney Anglicans want to take their place at the helm of SRE lobbying in NSW.

The draft minutes of the 17 October 2018 session of the 51st 2018 Synod contained the following –

6.6 Membership of the Inter-Church Commission on Religious Education in Public Schools (NSW)

Mr Matthew Robson asked the following question –

Noting that the Standing Committee has agreed to apply to “re-join” the Inter-Church Commission on Religious Education in Public Schools (NSW) Inc (ICCOREIS) (4.9, Book 1, p.13) –

(a) In what year did the Diocese withdraw as a member of ICCOREIS?
(b) What were the reason/s for withdrawing at the time?
(c) What are the reason/s for re-joining?
(d) Have the reasons for withdrawing been addressed?
(e) Noting that the membership of ICCOREIS includes the Catholic, Uniting, Seventh Day Adventist and Salvation Army Churches, what steps will be taken to ensure that the Diocese will be able to participate without compromising our evangelical doctrine
and heritage?
(f) Will the Diocese incur membership fees in re-joining ICCOREIS?
(g) If the answer to question (f) is ‘yes’, what is the annual cost of membership?
(h) If the answer to question (f) is ‘yes’, which organisation will bear the responsibility for payment?

To which the President replied –

I am informed that the answer is as follows –

(a) At the end of 2008.
(b) The view that ICCOREIS had become only a “friendly, ecumenical discussion group”, and that as there was a small financial cost in being a member it was no longer worth participating.
(c) The NSW Government has indicated it wishes to deal with peak bodies, rather than individual stakeholders, and attacks by opponents of SRE are increasingly targeting smaller, less-resourced SRE Providers. The view has been formed that the Sydney Diocese, recognised by many as the leader of SRE curriculum development and SRE teacher training, can better protect and advance the place of SRE within the NSW Education system in closer collaboration with other key Christian Providers by re-joining ICCOREIS.
(d) Yes.
(e) It is the responsibility of ICCOREIS to advocate for the place of Christian SRE within the NSW Education system. Under that umbrella, each individual provider of SRE is free to deliver its own authorised SRE curriculum by its own accredited teachers.
The authorised curriculum of the Sydney Diocese is that produced by Youthworks and our teacher accreditation process is overseen on my behalf by Youthworks.
(f) Yes.
(g) The estimated fee is $9,200.
(h) For 2018, Synod Fund Contingencies.

It is evident that the Sydney Anglicans see themselves as the saviour for the damaged product that is SRE in NSW.
Their lack of self-awareness is almost unbelievable.
As noted above, the Sydney Anglicans do not have the competence to self-assess their own materials, let alone declare themselves to be “the leader of SRE curriculum development”. Let’s not forget that it was the parents who make up Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools who exposed the age-inappropriate and irresponsible content within the Connect SRE materials. It was QPSSS’ hard work that led to the QLD DET’s major review of the  materials.
In  consideration of this, FIRIS is not sure who the ‘opponents of SRE’ are who the Sydney Anglicans claim are targeting smaller, less-resourced SRE providers. They obviously cannot be referring to the concerned parents at QPSSS.
Could it be FIRIS?
But how could it be us when we are so caught up investigating and reporting on the failures of the entire SRE system, the activities of the major providers (including the Sydney Anglicans), other large stakeholders, such as ICCOREIS / ChristianSRE  and predominantly, and most sadly, the NSW Department of Education.
If only the problem that is SRE in NSW Government schools was that small that we only had to focus on small providers.

Cherrybrook Technology High School – Special Religious Education Report Card – FAIL

In the second of FIRIS’ Special Religious Education (SRE) School Report Cards, Cherrybrook Technology High School (CTHS) gets an ‘F’ for failing to demonstrate to the citizens of NSW a respect for the rights of students and their parents / caregivers as well as a respect for the secular nature of NSW public schools.

Respect for choice – F

CTHS states clearly in the note sent home to parents in Semester 1, 2018 –

All students attend Christian Studies lessons unless their parents requests that their child not do so.

As in the case of Chatswood High School, CTHS’ statement is at odds with ChristianSRE’s smoke-screen claim that SRE is ‘opt-in’ and that no child is in scripture without permission from parents.

The members of the scripture lobby making this disingenuous claim know full well that the current Religious Education Implementation Procedures (the Procedures) and all of its supporting documents, including the flowchart mentioned in the image above, currently enable principals to make the SRE enrolment process work on an ‘opt-out’ basis. CTHS is able to state the above without breaching the Procedures and this is exactly what the scripture lobby have wished for.

The history of the amendments to the Procedures make it very clear that the claim that ‘parental choice is necessary for any child to attend SRE’ is grossly misleading given that the current enrolment process dismisses a declaration of ‘no religion’  and then subjects those parents and caregivers to an intentionally flawed process aimed at maximising the chance that a child ends up in scripture without informed and express consent.

Therefore, to try and protect the rights of all students, in July this year FIRIS sent to the principal of every public school principal in NSW, including the principal of CTHS, an important statement from the Minister (intentionally omitted from the Procedures), that directs schools to provide the children of parents who have not made their express wishes known with alternative activities to scripture. FIRIS amended the Department’s enrolment flowchart so it was aligned with the Minister’s statement, something that the both the Minister and the Department have refused to do.

FIRIS will be watching whether the principal of Cherrybrook Technology High School does better next year.

Respect for parents’ rights to information – F

The current Procedures state –

Parents/caregivers have the right to know how special religious education will be organised each year and which
religious organisations will deliver it.

This information is provided through enrolment information, the school website and school newsletter. 

FIRIS has not found any information available to the public regarding scripture on the CTHS website or in any of the 32 newsletters released by the school in 2018.

Honesty and integrity – F

Taking pages from the ‘how-to-embed-scripture-in-NSW-public-schools-and-blur-the-boundaries-between-evangelists-and-professional-teachers’ guidelines written by the scripture pressure-group, the Inter-Church Commission on Religious Education in Schools Inc. (ICCOREIS), CTHS, like Chatswood High School, has no problems blurring the boundaries between the scripture instructor at CTHS and professional educators.

Rather than ensuring that parents and caregivers are provided with clear information using names and terms used in the Religious Education Policy and the Procedures, it seems that the principal of CTHS has no problem with the SRE instructor, Mr Peter Murphy, referring to SRE as ‘Christian Studies’, and to himself as the ‘Christian Studies Teacher’.

The following images from CTHS’ Moodle site seem to demonstrate the failure of CTHS to present SRE in an honest way –

 

 

Given that Mr Murhpy has been provided with a Department of Education email address and given the lack of information available to the public on the internet regarding SRE and Mr Murphy, FIRIS has concerns regarding the extent to which Mr Murphy may be fulfilling ICCOREIS’ aim that he become a ‘fixture’ at the school.

A parent or caregiver of a child attending CTHS might be excused for confusing Mr Murphy for a professional teacher employed by the Department to teach a subject developed by the state government education board, NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA).

But that he is not!

Transparency and accountability – F

As stated above, parents have the right to information regarding SRE and this information should be provided in enrolment information, in school newsletters and on the school’s website.

In addition, the Procedures state –

It is the responsibility of the school to ensure parents/caregivers and the wider community are aware of special religious
education and alternative activities offered at the school.

Any changes to special religious education, alternative activities or special education in ethics options should be
communicated to the school community.

FIRIS has not found any information regarding SRE available to the wider community on the CTHS website or in any of the 32 newsletter released so far in 2018. Members of the wider community cannot determine who the approved SRE providers are responsible for SRE at CTHS.

The note sent home to parents and caregivers identifies Pennant Hills & Cherrybrook Christian Education Association (PHCCEA) as the providers of ‘Christian Studies’ at CTHS.

However, PHCCEA is not an approved provider of SRE. Furthermore, based on statements made by the Department and Generate Ministries, parents and caregivers of students at CTHS, and the wider community, cannot assume PHCCEA is the ‘combined arrangement’ (as mentioned in the Procedures) responsible for the supply of Mr Murphy to CTHS. .

Some of the background to the issues related to ‘combined arrangements’ are pointed out in the SRE Report Card for Chatswood High School.

FIRIS has found no information regarding the combined arrangement/s responsible for the delivery of SRE at CTHS on the school’s website or in any of its 2018 newsletters.

The note sent home to parents and caregivers by Mr Murphy does not identify the approved provider/s making up the combined arrangement at CTHS. Furthermore, the note does not identify, the approved provider/s responsible for –

  • authorising the SRE instructor (Mr Murphy) at CTHS
  • monitoring the Working With Children Check clearance of the SRE instructor (Mr Murphy) at CTHS
  • authorising the SRE curriculum used at CTHS.

The note also does not provide information about how parents and caregivers can locate and access the approved curriculum’s outline and its scope and sequence documents. It seems that if parents and caregivers want information they must ring or email Mr Murphy.

However, over the last two years, FIRIS has found it very difficult to obtain information regarding combined arrangements from various schools throughout NSW, the Department of Education and others, such as Generate Ministries.

On 13 September 2018 FIRIS wrote to the Director, Early Learning and Primary Education (the Director responsible for monitoring the provision of SRE) requesting information about the combined arrangement at CTHS –

Download (PDF, 106KB)

On 2 October 2018 FIRIS received the following answer –

Download (PDF, 312KB)

In response to the perceived lack of appropriate responses to the six specific questions, FIRIS has lodged a complaint with the Executive Director, Learning and Teaching –

Download (PDF, 212KB)

This complaint is currently under investigation.

On 16 October 2018 FIRIS also wrote to the principal of CTHS –

Download (PDF, 104KB)

FIRIS has not received any response from the principal and on 12 November 2018 FIRIS lodged a complaint with the Director, Educational Leadership responsible for CTHS.

Download (PDF, 135KB)

At this point in time, FIRIS has not received a response from the Director.

In consideration of the above correspondence, and all other previous correspondence with the Department and other stakeholders, FIRIS suspects that no one knows what the hell is going on or if they do, they have no interest in fulfilling an important obligation of stakeholders in self-regulating systems, that is, transparency to the public.

It seems that the Procedures’ nebulous concept of ‘combined arrangements’ enables a ‘confusopoly’ readily exploited by Christian churches and organisations and a system in which responsibility and accountability can easily be avoided.

Although FIRIS is aware that PHCCEA is not an approved provider of SRE and that it is most likely not to be regarded as the combined arrangement, it needs to be noted that the website of PHCCEA does not identify itself clearly as the ‘combined arrangement’ and the association does not identify the approved providers making up the combined arrangement responsible for the delivery of SRE at CTHS. Furthermore, it does not even identify the local churches making up PHCCEA.

Information regarding PHCCEA on Generate Ministries’ ourSRE website identifies 13 ‘supporting churches’ from up to seven Christian denominations, but as Generate Ministries have been quick to point out, this information cannot be used to try and determine whether CTHS or approved providers are adhering to the Department’s Procedures.

As stated in the Chatswood High School Report Card, if no one knows what is going on, the Department is at risk of not fulfilling its duty of care to all NSW public school students.

Despite our best efforts, FIRIS has been unable to determine which approved provider/s

  • authorise/s Mr Murphy to be the SRE instructor at CTHS
  • is/are accountable to child protection legislation, particularly the monitoring of Mr Murphy’s Working with Children Check clearance
  • is/are responsible for handling complaints regarding Mr Murphy
  • is/are are accountable to the Department.

Despite the fact that the SRE curriculum authorised by the relevant approved provider/s is not identified

  • in the note sent home to parents/caregivers
  • on the publicly accessible areas of the CTHS website
  • in any of the 32 newsletters released so far in 2018

– the PHCCEA website does identify and provide a link to the SRE curriculum.

For once, parents, caregivers and the wider community are given some important information. The curriculum document identifies that the curriculum was authorised in 2013 by the Baptist Union of NSW, an approved provider of SRE in NSW, under the delegated authority of the Pastor of Pennant Hills Baptist Church.

So, it seems that parents and caregivers can assume that the combined arrangement is made up of, at least, the Baptist Union of NSW.

Now, apart from the duty of care of principals to ensure only authorised personnel are accessing NSW public school students, and in consideration of the risks associated with the messages promoted in SRE, principals also have a duty of care to ensure that only the children of parents and caregivers belonging to the ‘religious persuasion’ of the members of the combined arrangement are enrolled in SRE.

The current Procedures state –

In a combined arrangement only those students whose parents/caregivers have nominated them to attend SRE classes of one of the participating religious persuasions are to be included.

In 2018, there were 1986 students enrolled at CTHS.

Given the absence of any other available information FIRIS will once again assume that the denominations identified on the ourSRE website are possibly approved providers forming part of the combined arrangement, in addition to the Baptist Union of NSW.

The 2018 enrolment data for CTHS indicates the following declarations –

  • 225 Anglican
  • 290 Catholic
  • 34 Protestant
  • 24 Baptist
  • 34 Presbyterian
  • 83 Uniting

Enrolment data does indicates that 151 students were enrolled as ‘Christian (Other)’ but, according to the Procedures, these students should not be enrolled without knowledge of which specific Christian denomination the students belong to.

Based on the enrolment figures above, FIRIS estimates that the maximum number of students who should be enrolled in SRE at CTHS is 841 (approx. 42% of school population).

According to the the PHCCEA website, Mr Murphy and the SRE instructor at Pennant Hills High School have ‘fortnightly contact with about 3000 students’, however FIRIS hopes that this is reference to casual contact with the total student population and not to actual SRE participation figures. FIRIS is aware that some high schools have claimed SRE attendance figures of between 90-100%.

Regardless, given CTHS’ ‘opt-out’ enrolment process, FIRIS has concerns that far-too-many of the students attending scripture lessons provided by Mr Murphy are most likely there without the express and informed consent of parents and caregivers. FIRIS finds the following 2011 comment from Mr Murphy in as further grounds for concerns that all is not right at CTHS –

For many students, coming from families of other faiths or no religious belief, Christian Studies classes provide them with their first real opportunity to explore and examine the claims of Christianity.

It should be noted that in 2018 there were the following numbers of non-Christian enrolments at CTHS

  • 333 ‘no religion’
  • 163 ‘unknown’
  • 13 ‘not stated’
  • 289 Hindu
  • 114 Buddhist
  • 123 Muslim

FIRIS finds very suspect the claims by the scripture lobby that the parents of these children are making a choice to have their children attend Christian SRE.

Unfortunately, the Department refuses to collect actual participation figures despite two independent reviews recommending that they do so. Therefore, it is not possible to make any definitive statement about how many of the above cohort of students have ended up in SRE.

Protection of the secular nature of NSW public schools

As in the case of Chatswood High School, the seeming failure of CTHS to act with honesty and integrity may easily be regarded by a reasonable member of the NSW public as an intentional failure to preserve the secular nature of NSW Government schools.

When it comes to preventing NSW public schools serving as ‘mission fields’ for Christian churches, CTHS also gets an ‘F’.

PHCCEA is identified as a ‘link missionary’ on the website of St Matthews Anglican Church (West Pennant Hills).

PHCCEA is also identified as a ‘mission’ of Cherrybrook Anglican Church.

In 2012, the chairman of PHCCEA stated that

students need to know Christ!

In 2012 the PHCCEA Secretary stated –

Our motivation comes from the fact that we know that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17). We know, from our own experience, the transforming power of the Gospel, and this compels us to make the most of the opportunity we have been provided to share the message of salvation through Jesus Christ with the more than 3,000 students who attend Christian Studies classes at Pennant Hills High School and Cherrybrook Technology High School each fortnight.

In 2013, a past chairperson of PHCCEA and the then Vice President of the Pennant Hills High School P&C said –

…do you believe that we, the church, have been entrusted to make known the good news of Jesus? Do you believe that by ourselves we are separated from God, dead in our transgression and sin, without hope and without God in the world? Do you believe that God, at his initiative, because of his great love for us, has acted to bridge the gap created by our sin and rebellion that keeps us from him? Do you believe that when Jesus said ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me?’, that he meant it? Do you believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is very good news; as the old hymn says ‘strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow’? Do you believe that knowing Jesus is transformative and glorious? I do. I really do.

Well then if you believe that, then you must also believe that those who live in our community need to hear this good news about Jesus? Of course some will misunderstand and many will reject our message, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the basic message of the Christian faith is still good news that we have a responsibility to share. I think we all believe this because I’m sure your church talks regularly about mission and community engagement. What’s more, I’m sure that we all have a passion to share this good news with young people who today are confronted with so many choices and competing world  views. Don’t we want the young people in our community, amidst all the noise and competing voices, to hear clearly the good news of Jesus? 

OK. Let me ask, do you believe that the Special Religious Education (SRE) provisions in NSW are not just good public policy, but a wonderful opportunity to share the basics of the Christian faith in our local public high schools?…We must make the most of the opportunity provided for us to teach the basics of the Christian faith in our public high schools. We must not let this privilege slip through our hands through indifference...

We must never let it fail.

It is such an outstanding opportunity for mission in our local area, within our community. 

In 2013 the chairman of PHCCEA, Mr Gavin Poole, proclaimed –

It’s too easy! The local schools invite the local churches to teach the Scriptures to their students once a week. All that is asked is that the content of the classes be authorised by the relevant religious body. There is no impediment, a few common sense guidelines and access is not only allowed but encouraged. It has to be the one of the best provisions given to churches in NSW. Through, cooperation, organisation, generosity and hard work the opportunity is grasped with both hands. [emphasis added]

Final comment

For ensuring that ‘it’s too easy’ for evangelists to turn NSW secular public schools into ‘mission fields’ for Christian churches, CTHS gets a resounding ‘F’.

Chatswood High School- SRE Report Card – FAIL

In the first of FIRIS’ NSW School Report Cards, Chatswood High School (CHS) gets an overall resounding ‘F’ for being a prime example of everything that is wrong about Special Religious Education (‘SRE’ aka ‘scripture’) in NSW public schools.

Respect for Choice

When it comes to implementing NSW Department of Education (the Department) policies and procedures in a way which ensures the rights and choices of all parents are respected, CHS gets an ‘F’.

Despite the smoke-screen mantra chanted by ChristianSRE and other SRE apologists that the choices of all parents are respected and that SRE is ‘opt-in’, CHS states clearly on its website and in the scripture letter parents have to complete –

Where a withdrawal form is not returned, the school will include your child in Christian SRE. 

Surely, after reading this statement, a reasonable member of the NSW public would be justified in concluding that CHS  regards enrolment in scripture as an ‘opt-out’ process?

In fact, this is exactly what the scripture lobby have wanted, as seen by in the following document, tabled by ChristianSRE’s Mr Murray Norman at the 11 November 2014 meeting of the Department’s SRE ‘Consultative’ Committee, obtained using freedom of information legislation –

It is most likely that the following of such a procedure at CHS in 2018 resulted in far-too-many violations of a child’s right not to be instructed in a religious belief contrary to the wishes of their parents, but it seems that the Minister, the Department, and the scripture lobby have no problems with that. After all, in our supposedly ‘Judaeo-Christian’ society what does it matter if the rights of those belonging to minority religions or those who have non-religious beliefs are trampled on.

As one Newcastle Anglican Reverend and scripture instructor has said about the current enrolment process – SRE for the win.

However, CHS’ statement is contrary to information provided by the NSW Minister for Education (the Minister) and his Department that –

If the parents ⁄ caregivers do not return the letter, the student will engage in alternative meaningful activities during time allocated for SRE.

So it now seems that, ultimately, SRE is technically ‘opt-in’ because in the absence of information regarding a parent’s choice students should not be placed in a scripture class.

However, this is where the Kafka-esque shenanigans begin.

In alignment with the wishes of the scripture lobby, the Minister has ensured that the Procedures, as well as all of its supporting documents, do not contain or reflect his statement made above. FIRIS has seen no evidence that either the Minister or the Department has communicated the direction to principals of NSW public schools.

It seems that despite the Minister’s claims of respect for parental choice, including the choice to not have their children take part in scripture, a reasonable member of the NSW public might begin to suspect that the aim of leaving the statement out of the Procedures is to funnel students into Christian scripture classes without express consent from their parents or caregivers.

Therefore, it might be possible to excuse CHS’s statement on its website and in its SRE participation letter, given that the Procedures provide no direction about what to do if a SRE consent form is not returned.

However, in July this year FIRIS sent the Minister’s direction to the principal of every public school principal in NSW, including the principal of CHS.

There can be no more excuses.

Honesty and integrity

When it comes to demonstrating honesty and integrity regarding the place of scripture in the school, CHS gets another ‘F’.

It seems that CHS is prepared to accept and facilitate many recommendations from the ‘how-to-embed-scripture-in-NSW-public-schools-and-blur-the-boundaries-between-evangelists-and-professional-teachers’ guidelines written by the scripture pressure-group, the Inter-Church Commission on Religious Education in Schools Inc. (ICCOREIS).

The ICCOREIS guidelines encourage Christian scripture instructors to become a ‘fixture’ in the school by –

  • being identified with regular staff and engaging generally with school activities, such as attending school camps and participating in school excursions
  • providing extra welfare, support and attention to students, particularly students at risk and those needing assistance with learning and participating in peer support and personal development programs
  • volunteering and assisting in co-curricular activities including sport, debating and public speaking, drama and musicals, dance and rock festivals, excursions, school formals, clubs, and social activities
  • taking part in playground duty, roll call, carnivals and other ‘extras’
  • teaching General Religious Education or other Board of Studies courses.

According to the CHS website, the SRE Christian (Combined Churches) co-ordinator is Mr Matthew Pettett.

Mr Pettett has a Department of Education email address provided on the CHS website (matthew.pettett7@det.nsw.edu.au) and is found on the school’s staff list under the heading ‘Religious Education’.

It also seems Mr Pettett is active in the school’s sports program.

A parent or caregiver of children attending CHS might be excused for confusing Mr Pettett for a professional teacher employed by the Department to teach a subject developed by the state government education board, NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA).

But that he is not!

The blurring of boundaries between scripture instructors and professional teachers employed by the Department disguises SRE and increases the risk of contact between scripture instructors and students without the informed consent of parents/caregivers and without any policy direction preventing them from attempting to recruit students into scripture classes.

Nonetheless, at the very least, a reasonable member of the NSW public might consider ICCOREIS’ recommendations above, particularly the statement that SRE instructors may teach GRE or other formal courses, as the pressure-group’s complete lack of respect for professional boundaries in NSW public schools and the choices of parents and caregivers who have not consented to interaction between scripture instructors and their children.

Protection of the secular nature of NSW public schools

When it comes to preventing NSW public schools serving as ‘mission fields’ for Christian churches, CHS also gets an ‘F’.

The seeming failure of CHS to act with honesty and integrity regarding the place of scripture and the position and status of Mr Pettett in the school may easily be regarded by a reasonable member of the NSW public as an intentional failure to preserve the secular nature of NSW Government schools.

Mr Pettet is identified on the website of Willoughby Park Anglican Church as a ‘mission partner’ in reference to his role as the scripture instructor at CHS.

Mr Pettett’s ‘SRE employment board’ REACH (referred to on CHS website) is identified by Willoughby Park Anglican Church as a mission organisation supported by the church.

The ‘Mission Links’ page of the church’s website states:

Our Lord Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” For this reason, we want everyone, everywhere to know Jesus Christ, and so we gladly support mission beyond our church.

In its Mission and Aid Policy the church cites Matthew 28:18-20 –

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

and then states –

Our church’s involvement in mission is in joyful obedience to this call…All members of Willoughby Park have an obligation to pray or serve in some way with the shared goal of the spread of the gospel to all nations and people.

The appeal to Matthew 28:19-20 is in alignment with ICCOREIS’ vision for Christian instruction in Government schools –

 

 

No wonder representatives from one of the member churches of ICCOREIS have been bold enough to state –

Picture walking into a classroom full of children who have never heard about Jesus and taking a government-endorsed half hour to tell them all about Him! Scripture provides an excellent opportunity to take the living and active word of God to children throughout our city. As Jesus said in Matthew 9:37, the harvest is ready! Students are hungry and eager to hear God’s word!

SRE changes lives for eternity – here’s proof!

NSW is one of the few states in Australia with legislation that supports SRE. Schools are an open door to the gospel. A SRE Teacher is not just a teacher, but a government-endorsed evangelist! SRE also presents an excellent opportunity to connect with schools, children and whole families.

Research reinforces that ministry to children is an effective and powerful way to grow the Kingdom!

Primary school children, those aged 5-12 years are NINE times more likely to accept Christ as their Saviour than people 12 years and above.

Transparency and accountability

When it comes to transparency and accountability regarding scripture in the school, CHS gets another ‘F’.

Mr Pettett is referred to on the school’s website as the SRE Christian (Combined Churches) co-ordinator.

SRE Christian (Combined Churches) is also identified on the school’s website as REACH Inc. and a link is provided to its website – http://www.reachinschools.org/.

FIRIS assumes from this information that Mr Pettett is a scripture instructor supported by a ‘combined arrangement’.

The Department’s Procedures state –

Religious persuasions may decide to provide a combined arrangement. If this occurs, each religious persuasion must be an approved provider of SRE in NSW Government schools.

Despite the seeming simplicity of the statement, FIRIS has found that ‘combined arrangements’ are nebulous and unmonitored entities which create a ‘confusopoly’ benefiting Christian scripture providers. The combined arrangement at CHS is a typical example.

The information provided to parents and caregivers of students at CHS directs them to the incorporation REACHHowever, REACH is not an ‘approved provider’ of scripture in NSW public schools.

The CHS website does not identify the approved providers forming the combined arrangement which supplies Mr Pettett as a scripture instructor to the school.

The REACH website also does not identify the approved scripture providers forming the combined arrangement that supplies Mr Pettett to CHS. It does make reference to the ‘Combined Churches of Willoughby’, ‘a REACH Board, comprised of representatives from the Willoughby Ministers Association and supporting Churches’. However, none of these organisation are approved providers of SRE in NSW Government schools and little-to-no information can be found out about them on the internet.

However, information regarding REACH and Mr Pettett is available on Generate Ministries’ ourSRE website, which identifies five Anglican and three unidentified-denomination churches, as well as single Baptist, Presbyterian, Uniting and Salvation Army churches, as ‘supporting churches’.

However, both Generate Ministries and the Department of Education have made it very clear to FIRIS that the REACH board, as well as all of the other boards, associations etc. on the ourSRE website, are not combined arrangements.

Therefore, at this point, it seems that it is not possible for a parent, caregiver or citizen to find out who the approved providers are that are responsible for the delivery of scripture at CHS without contacting the school and/or the Department of Education itself.

However, recent attempts by FIRIS to obtain information from the Director responsible for the oversight of scripture in NSW public schools regarding other combined arrangements have not been fruitful. In fact, the seeming reluctance of the Director to answer FIRIS’ questions has resulted in a formal complaint from FIRIS which is currently being investigated by the Department.

FIRIS will be writing to CHS and asking the school to identify the approved providers making up the combined arrangement. However, recent attempts by FIRIS to obtain information from principals regarding combined arrangements in other Sydney high schools have met with no response.

Could it be a sign that no one knows what the hell is going on?

If no one knows what is going on, the Department has a serious problem on their hands.

The current Procedures state –

SRE lessons in combined arrangements must be delivered by authorised representatives who are authorised by at least one of the approved providers within a combined arrangement.

The biggest problem seems to be the lack of a centralised register of combined arrangements enabling principals, parents, caregivers and citizens to identify which providers are accountable to child protection legislation, particularly the monitoring of the Working with Children Check clearances of scripture instructors.

The failure to establish and maintain a register results in a lack of accountability and significantly increases the risk of unauthorised adults entering NSW public school classrooms.

No one connected to any of the combined arrangements FIRIS has investigated, including individual scripture instructors, has been willing to state who the member providers of the relevant combined arrangement are and which providers are responsible for monitoring the Working with Children Check clearance of the instructors.

In addition, parents and caregivers need to know which approved providers are authorising the scripture instructor and the curriculum used in order to know where to find information, and where to direct complaints or concerns.

The 2019 Procedures state that all scripture providers are required to have their complaints process available on their website. However, such a requirement is pointless if parents are unable to determine who the approved provider is.

The current Procedures also state –

The curriculum delivered through a combined arrangement must be authorised by at least one of the approved providers.

From 2019 onwards scripture providers are to make their curriculum scope and sequence(s) accessible on their website in sufficient detail for parents/caregivers and schools to be able to understand what is covered in SRE lessons.

At least, it seems parents can learn from the REACH website that the curriculum apparently used by Mr Pettett is the Sydney Anglican’s Think Faith curriculum. Nonetheless, parents and caregivers are unable to determine who has authorised the use of this curriculum.

FIRIS will leave it up to the reader to decide whether the information provided on the REACH website regarding Think Faith will satisfy the ‘sufficient detail’ requirement in 2019. However, this is the curriculum scope and sequence document provided –

Download (PDF, 88KB)

In consideration of the child safety and age-appropriateness concerns regarding the Sydney Anglican’s Connect curriculum, FIRIS finds the limited information provided on the REACH website particularly concerning.

It is also essential for principals to be aware of which approved providers make up combined arrangements in order to ensure enrolment processes are correctly followed. The current Procedures state –

In a combined arrangement only those students whose parents/caregivers have nominated them to attend SRE classes of one of the participating religious persuasions are to be included.

FIRIS will go out on a limb here and assume, until told otherwise, that Mr Pettett is authorised by the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. Therefore, FIRIS will assume that students enrolled as ‘Anglican’ or ‘Protestant’ may be enrolled in Mr Pettett’s scripture class.

Given the absence of any other available information FIRIS will also assume that the denominations identified on the ourSRE website are possibly approved providers forming part of the combined arrangement.

The 2018 enrolment data for CHS indicates the following declarations –

  • 95 Anglican
  • 29 Protestant
  • 0 Baptist (none identified)
  • 7 Presbyterian
  • 8 Uniting
  • 0 Salvation Army (none identified)

Therefore, FIRIS questions whether all of the reported 400 students attending scripture lessons provided by REACH’s scripture instructor are there with the express of consent of parents and caregivers.

Enrolment data does indicates that 155 students were enrolled as ‘Christian (Other)’ but, according to the Procedures, these students should not be enrolled without knowledge of which specific Christian denomination the students belong to. If the denomination is not known it cannot be guaranteed that the rights of students are being protected and that students are being instructed in accordance with the wishes of the parents.

Final comment

FIRIS will monitor CHS’s implementation of the new Special Religious Education Procedures which commence implementation on 30 January 2019.

We will continue to try and determine the approved providers connected to the delivery of SRE at the school.

Watch this space.

When it comes to the marketing-spin of ChristianSRE, it pays to Question. Explore. Discover.

ChristianSRE (read Inter-Church Commission on Religious Education in Schools – ICCOREIS) has recently commenced a saturation-marketing campaign seemingly targeting all NSW public school students, particularly those students enrolling in Kindergarten or Year 7 in 2019, with their grand claims that Special Religious Education (SRE – aka ‘scripture’) offers students an education in ‘values’.

In order to assist ChristianSRE / ICCOREIS provide parents with information, FIRIS, under the banner ‘Real Christian SRE | Believe. Fear. Obey.’ has started revealing the actual content of SRE lessons authorised by scripture providers for use in NSW public schools. To counter the ‘we-teach-good-values’ marketing-spin of ChristianSRE, FIRIS’ Real Christian SRE campaign has discovered, and made public, evidence that what children as soon as they reach reading age may be exposed to messages that they are born sinners, that sin must be paid for in full, that the penalty for sin is death and ‘separation from God forever in the Lake of Fire, and that they belong to Satan and Hell unless they declare their faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, ChristianSRE / ICCOREIS would like parents and caregivers to believe that such  messages will only be found being promoted by ‘rogue’ churches or ‘rogue’ SRE instructors.

As part of her testimony to the General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 regarding the Education Amendment (Ethics Classes Repeal) Bill 2011 on Monday 27 February 2012, Dr Ann Maree Whenman, the then chairperson of ICCOREIS, responded to a question regarding the practice of threatening children and creating an atmosphere of fear within SRE classes by stating that ICCOREIS would not condone that style of teaching.

 

 

In response to these comments, a letter was sent to ICCOREIS in December 2013 asking Dr Whenman to comment on the following Youtube video found here.  This clip published by FIRIS in April 2013 is a compilation of video material published by Mr Graham McDonald, or ‘Mr Mac’, an elected advisor to ICCOREIS, on the Children of the World website.

In this Youtube clip, Mr Mac states –

  • all have sinned and  sin must be punished
  • young children should be taught an age-appropriate concept of sin, for example, a child who does not put his or her shoes away when told by a parent is committing a sin.
  • seven-year-old children, and maybe even younger, have reached the ‘age of accountability’ and therefore may go to Hell.
  • that people need to stop living their way and start living God’s/Jesus’ way and to ask Him to come and be the ‘boss’ of their lives –
  • the Church has ignored what the Bible says when it comes to discplining children (Spare the rod and spoil the child) and there needs to be some form of physical hitting of the child.
  • divorced parents are not following God’s plan for men and women (Mr Mac then describes the distress caused to a child as a result of this comment and how he acted as an unqualified counsellor).
  • that in such cases when ‘ministering (read ‘counselling’) children is required, the curriculum can be ignored.
  • there is only one God and all other gods are ‘figments of people’s imaginations’.

Dr Whenman was asked to confirm or deny whether Mr Mac’s statements and actions, if made by a scripture teacher of an ICCOREIS scripture provider, would be condoned by ICCOREIS or whether they would be treated as the statements and actions of a ‘rogue teacher’?

She was then asked, if ICCOREIS did not condone these statements, if she could provide information regarding the extent of Mr McDonald’s influence on ICCOREIS and explain why he was accepted as an advisor to the organisation.

Furthermore. she was also asked to explain how parents would be able to determine whether such messages were being passed on to NSW school children through the curriculum material or teaching practice of an ICCOREIS affiliated scripture provider?

Neither Dr Whenman nor any other representative of ICCOREIS provided any answers to these questions or replied in any way to the correspondence.

In October 2014 the correspondence was resent to the then Chairperson, Mr Neville Cox.

It was pointed out to Mr Cox that following the publishing of FIRIS’ Youtube clip, Graham McDonald’s teaching resources had been removed from public access on the Children of the World website and that specific references to elected advisors to ICCOREIS on its website had been replaced by the general statement

ICCOREIS has a pool of advisors who provide information and advice on a range of issues related to religious education in public schools.

Mr Cox was asked to respond to the following questions –

  1. Does ICCOREIS approve of Mr McDonald’s comments in the Youtube clip mentioned above?
  2. Given that the Youtube clip comprises clips from Mr McDonald’s materials for religious instruction teachers, would the statements and actions mentioned by Mr McDonald be condoned by ICCOREIS if made by an SRE teacher of an ICCOREIS affiliated SRE provider or would they, in the words of Dr Whenman, be treated as the statements and actions of a “rogue teacher”?
  3. If ICCOREIS disapproves of anything that Mr McDonald claims in the video, please provide two or three examples and describe the steps you have taken to ensure that no scripture teacher makes these claims in future.
  4. What is the nature of Mr Graham McDonald’s current relationship to ICCOREIS?
  5. What is the significance of the removal of the above-mentioned material from the Children of the World website and the removal of references to elected advisors on the ICCOREIS website?

Once again, neither Mr Cox nor any representative of ICCOREIS provided any answers to these questions or replied in any way to the correspondence.

Now you might be wondering what the point is in bringing up all of this old material.

The point is that it seems Mr Mac can be seen in the ChristianSRE campaign-launch image above where he, along with the others in the image, is described as a ChristianSRE representative –

 

When asked, neither ChristianSRE nor Eternity News were willing to confirm or deny that the man above is Mr Mac.

Nonetheless, FIRIS believes that the man in the photo above is Mr Mac. We will leave it up to the reader to draw his or her own conclusion.

If it is Mr Mac, in consideration of his statements, his declared actions while engaging in children’s ministry and his advisory role to ICCOREIS / ChristianSRE, a reasonable parent or caregiver of a NSW public school student has very good reason to doubt and question all claims made by ICCOREIS / ChristianSRE regarding the content of the scripture classes and the conduct of scripture instructors offered by those scripture providers represented by ICCOREIS and ChristianSRE.

The member organisations of ICCOREIS / ChristianSRE are –

  • Australian Christian Churches in NSW
  • Baptist Union of NSW
  • Christian Community Churches of Australia
  • Dioceses of the Anglican Church of Australia in the Province of NSW
  • Dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in NSW
  • Fellowship of Congregational Churches
  • Fresh Hope (Churches of Christ in NSW)
  • Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia
  • Lutheran Church of Australia, NSW District
  • Presbyterian Church of Australia in the State of NSW
  • The Salvation Army
  • Serbian Orthodox Church in Australia and New Zealand – NSW and ACT Deaneries
  • Seventh-day Adventist Church, NSW Conferences
  • Uniting Church in Australia NSW/ACT Synod

Reasonable parents and caregivers would be justified in concluding that if ICCOREIS / ChristianSRE condone the views and actions of Mr Mac to the point that he was (and remains) an elected advisor, God only knows what they condone when it comes to the 10,500 Christian scripture instructors.

Parents and caregivers should not have faith in the marketing-spin of ChristianSRE but put their words into action and Question. Explore. Discover. what their children are being exposed to in Real Christian SRE.

 

 

 

 

 

Enrol your child in scripture in NSW public schools for a ‘firm foundation’ in animal and blood sacrifice: or, fun and games sacrificing a stuffed toy lamb

As part of FIRIS’ ongoing commitment to provide parents and caregivers with information regarding Real Christian SRE rather than leaving them to make their decisions based on the sales-pitch offered by Christian SRE providers, we will continue our exploration of the Firm Foundations scripture materials.

Before we start there are a few things which must be kept in mind as you read the following –

  1. Neither the NSW Minister for Education nor the Department of Education have authority over what is taught in a SRE classroom, how it is taught, or who scripture providers authorise to deliver it.
  2. The Department of Education relies on nothing more than an ‘annual assurance’ from providers that their SRE instructors are using the provider’s authorised ‘age-appropriate‘ curriculum ‘with sensitivity and in an age appropriate manner‘.
  3. The Firm Foundations curriculum was declared age-appropriate and authorised for use by the Fellowship Baptist Church of Blacktown for use in NSW public schools in its 2018 Annual Assurance.
  4. The Firm Foundations curriculum developers state – ‘Once a child has a learned to read, he can participate in all the aspects of the lesson material.’ Book 1, p. 64

Let’s now begin to see what the Firm Foundations lessons have to say about blood and animal sacrifice.

FIRIS has already made available the ‘doctrinal themes’ taught in the Firm Foundation materials, but will do so again asking the reader to focus on the sections relating to animal and blood sacrifice –

Download (PDF, 95KB)

Make no mistake, the theme of animal and blood sacrifice is core to Firm Foundation’s message that God demands the ‘death of the sinner as the payment for sin’ and that animal sacrifice served as a constant reminder that ‘nothing less than death could satisfy God’s holy and just demands’ (Hebrews 10:1-12)

At the end of Book 2 children learn about the first blood sacrifice for sin, that is, ‘God’s gracious act of clothing Adam and Eve‘.

The SRE instructor is reminded that

….the Word is very clear in stating that God killed animals in order to make acceptable coverings for Adam and Eve. Although the blood of animals could never pay for sin, from this time until the death of Christ, God accepted the blood of animals as a type, or picture, of the punishment that all sin deserves. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death….” Hebrews 9:22 says, “…without shedding of blood is no remission.” p. 149

The point of the lesson is that ‘God is establishing the fact of man’s helplessness to save himself and providing an analogy regarding the coming Deliverer.‘ p.  149

The children are taught that the first death in the world was brought about by sin. God killed the animals and took their the skins off in order to remind Adam and Eve ‘that disobedience to Him brought death into the world.’

Here the instructor is provided with the note –

Here God is preparing a redemptive analogy of the truth presented in Isaiah 61:10, “…he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness….” Later, we will draw on this analogy to reveal the truth of substitution and the covering of the righteousness of Christ received through faith…Just make it clear that God would not accept what Adam and Eve had made but that God provided them with clothing, and that what we do outwardly cannot make us pleasing to God. p. 152

At the end of the lesson, the children are asked ‘Why did God kill animals to make clothing for Adam and Eve?‘ and the answer provided is ‘Because God was reminding Adam and Eve that the punishment for sin is death.‘ 
 p. 157

Download (PDF, 226KB)

The theme returns in Lesson 13 in Book 3.

Instructors are told to have on hand, ‘a realistic stuffed toy lamb

This lesson focuses on animal sacrifice as the means for Abel to come to God in the way the prescribed by God, that is, to sacrifice a sheep as an offering. While drawing the children’s attention to the stuffed toy lamb, the instructor is told how the lamb had to be sacrificed in order to remind them that the punishment for sin is death and ‘that they would die and go to everlasting everlasting punishment unless He saved them.’

The instructor is encouraged to say to the children –

God was not being cruel to require the death of a lamb. No, the reason the lamb had to die was because of man’s sin. God loves man and wants man to know that the penalty for sin is death. The lamb was a sacrificeone who died in the place of the sinner. (emphasis in original) p. 6

– and the instructor is told –

This is important for children to understand. Most children are very tender. They must realize that the reason for the lamb’s death is man’s sin. p. 6

The children are told that the ‘Bible clearly says that blood must be shed for sin’ and that Abel brought one of his lambs, the firstborn of its mother, killed it so ‘its blood ran out‘ and offered the sheep, along with the fat, to God.

The children are asked ‘Why did Abel bring this offering to God?‘ and the answers –

  1. Because he agreed with God that he was a sinner.
  2. And he believed that only God could save him from everlasting punishment. 

The instructor is told –

These two concepts…are very important. Be sure to stress them and to make sure that the children are hearing what you are saying. You may want to have them repeat these two lines with you. p. 6

The instructor is told to explain to the children –

It is important to understand that the blood of animals could never pay for sin. God did not accept Abel’s lamb as the payment for his sin. But God forgave Abel’s sin and accepted him because Abel trusted, not in himself, but in God who had promised to send the Deliverer.

– and then the instructor is told –

It is important in every story that your students be taught grace. They must come to realize that man cannot contribute anything to his salvation. Make certain that they understand that the blood of animals could not and did not pay for sin. Sin must be paid for by human life being given. Animal blood, or life, is not equal to human life (Hebrews 10:4,5). Be sure to make it absolutely clear that God will not overlook sin. Sin must be paid for in full. The soul that sins, it shall die (Ezekiel 18:4), that is, be separated forever from God. (emphasis added) p. 7

The children are told –

God has not changed; He is still the same today. He does not command us now to sacrifice sheep, but He is still the only One who can make a way for us to come to Him. We must come God’s way; otherwise, He will reject us as He rejected Cain. p. 8

The suggested activity ‘Coming to God’ (p. 14) gets the children to create cutouts of sacrificial altars, the offerings, and Cain and Abel while a discussion is going on reinforcing to the children that ‘man must come to God according to God’s way and not his own. Man must have faith in
order to please God.’ p. 14

In the skit for the lesson, Uncle Don tells Jessica and Travis that ‘believing and obeying are extremely important.’

Download (PDF, 313KB)

The theme of animal and blood sacrifice in the context of having faith in order to please God is found in Lesson 18 regarding Abraham and Isaac. Once again, the stuffed toy lamb is to be at hand.

The children are asked to consider Isaac’s situation and to remember that he had most likely seen many sacrifices (‘SHOW THE STUFFED TOY LAMB‘).

Apparently Isaac ‘knew that the penalty for sin is death, and that the only way to come to God was by faith, offering the blood of a lamb or sheep as a sacrifice in man’s place‘ and he ‘could not understand why they had not taken a sheep with them.’

The children are told Isaac was tied up and laid on the altar and how Abraham lifted up the knife to kill his son –

God had commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, and there was no way for Isaac to escape once he was on the altar. p. 74

The children are asked –

Is there any way that we can save ourselves from death and everlasting punishment for our sins? No! We cannot save ourselves. God will punish all sin. No one can escape from God.
God and only God can make a way to escape. Do you know what God did for Isaac? 

Because Abraham had not brought sheep with him as a suitable sacrifice, God ‘graciously’ provided a ram which could be sacrificed in place of Isaac.

Animal and blood next appears in the Firm Foundations materials in Lesson 22 as the children learn about God passing over Israel.

Download (PDF, 244KB)

The lesson materials begin by providing the instructor with a perspective on the materials –

What a tremendous story this is! We live in a day when many “religious scholars” are repulsed by any emphasis on blood. God was not repulsed by it; rather, He tells us in this passage that only those protected by the blood of a lamb would be spared the loss of their firstborn. Not only was the lamb’s blood spilled out, it was also applied to the top and the sides of the door frame of each house. 
We who know the story of the Lamb of God realize the tremendous implications of this passage in Exodus. Indeed, we too are spared the wrath of God because, by faith, we have been placed under the protection of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. p. 115

Once again, the ‘realistic, stuffed, toy lamb‘ is required as a visual prop.

After hearing about the nine plagues sent by God the students are told that God warned Moses that ‘the Israelites must prepare  for the final and most terrible plague of all‘, a plague that would destroy the firstborn in the Egyptian homes.

The children hear about how Moses was told by God to get the head of each Israelite home to choose a lamb or goat ‘without blemish’ (‘SHOW THE STUFFED, TOY LAMB‘), kill it and catch its blood in a basin. The instructor tells the children –

When the Israelites killed the lambs and the blood flowed out, the people were reminded that the punishment for sin is death. Just as the ram died instead of Isaac, the perfect lambs which were chosen and killed by the Israelites died instead of their firstborn children. p. 121

The children learn how the blood of the lamb was put on the doorposts and over the door of the house where the lamb was being eaten that night. The instructor tells the children –

The Israelites were to stay inside their houses on which they had placed the blood. It was just as if they were to hide behind the death and blood of the lamb which God said they must kill in place of the firstborn. p. 122

The children are asked –

What do you think would have happened if an Israelite had said, “It’s a shame to kill this good lamb. I won’t kill it. I will just tie it up at the door. God will see the living lamb, and He will not kill my child by the plague.” Do you think God would have passed by the firstborn of that house?

No! The lamb had to die. The blood must be shed. They must not forget that the punishment for sin is death.

It all had to be done the way God had told Moses. p. 123

The children learn that not one of the firstborn of the Israelites’ children or livestock died. They learn the lesson that ‘God always does what He says‘ and He ‘will punish those who fight against Him, but He will show His mercy to those who trust Him.’ p. 124

But the fun begins when the children get to step through the Passover Story, including the sacrifice of the ‘realistic, stuffed, toy lamb’ –

Given that NSW public school teachers do not have to remain in the classroom while SRE is being held, who knows what actions children are encouraged to carry out as they re-enact the Passover Story.

Animal and blood sacrifice appears in Lesson 26 of Book 4 as children learn about the role of animal and blood sacrifice in the Tabernacle.

Download (PDF, 114KB)

Once again they are told that the blood of animals could not ‘pay for sin‘ and that it was ‘only a reminder, or illustration, or pattern, of the punishment demanded for sin.’

Could the blood of animals pay for their sins? No! The blood of the animals could not pay for their sins.

— The punishment for sin is death, and that includes the sep­aration of the sinner from God forever.

— Sin must be paid for in full.

Nevertheless, God promised to hold off the judgement they deserved and forgive their sins for the past year, if they came to Him in the way He had told them. They must come to him believing Him and bringing a blood sacrifice for their sins. p. 11

This message carries on into Lesson 28 as the children learn about the role of animal and blood sacrifice in Solomon’s Temple. Once again, it is emphasised –

The Israelites were never to forget that they were sinners, that God is perfect, and that the punishment for sin is death. Because the blood of animals could not pay for their sin, the blood had to be placed before God every year. 

Every year, God forgave their sins and held off His judg­ment, waiting for the time when a perfect and complete pay­ment for sin would be made. p. 39

In Lesson 46 in Book 5 Jesus is presented to the children at the ‘Passover Lamb who died to save all men.’

In the Lord’s Supper, the bread represents His body, broken for men. The cup represents His blood, shed for the sins of all men. p. 81

At the beginning of the lesson the following skit is read out, with an adult performing the role of ‘Uncle Don’ –

Jimmy says to his Uncle Don –

Well, I still don’t understand about all the lambs and other animals used for sacrifices in the Bible. It just seems kind of cruel.

To which Uncle Don replies –

Well, the killing of a lamb or other animal was first of all a reminder that the penalty for sin is death. (emphasis in original)

– and –

The Bible says that without the shedding of blood, sin cannot be paid for. (emphasis in original)

– and Uncle Don concludes by reminding Jimmy and Jessica that Jesus was the final lamb to be offered as part of the Passover sacrifice.

This message is driven home in the suggestions for activities for the lessonwhich include –

In Lesson 48 the children are reminded that the punishment for sin is death, not only physical death, ‘but separation from God in Hell,‘ and that ‘the only way Jesus could deliver is was for Him to take our place before God and be punished for our sins.’ (emphasis in original)

The children are told that Jesus came into the world ‘to deliver sinners from Satan, sin and death.’

He finished this work by being separated from God and by giving His blood and His life as the full payment for our sins. (emphasis in original) p. 110

The suggestions for activities for this lesson ‘The Death Penalty’ and ‘Jesus took my punishment’ drive home that the punishment for sin is death and that the blood of animals could not pay for sins. The instructions for the activity ‘Full price’ are –

Give each child paper and pencil. Ask them to write what we can do to make ourselves acceptable to God. (We can do nothing. Jesus paid the full price for sins in His body. It is finished!) p. 114

Lesson 49 in Book 5 presents the meaning of Christ’s death from the Old Testament.

In relation to God’s killing of animals and his clothing of Adam and Eve, the children are reminded that there is nothing they can do to make themselves acceptable to God –

Going to church, doing good deeds, giving to the needy, taking care of the environment — all of these are things we should do. But none of these things will make us acceptable to God.  p. 119

How then must a person respond to God in order to be accepted by Him?

In relation to the story of the animal sacrifice of Abel, the children are told that the message is that ‘God will accept all those who put their faith in the Lord Jesus and His blood that He shed for their sins.’ p. 121

When revisiting the story of the Passover, the instructor tells the children that they can be ‘absolutely certain that, if they trust in the  Lord Jesus and His death for them, they will never face eternal punishment for their sins.’ p. 124

In Lesson 42, children are told –

The Bible makes it very clear that all who refuse to believe Jesus will be separated from God and punished forever in the Lake of Fire. p. 41

At the end of Lesson 49 the instructor is told to offer a personal testimony along the lines of –

I have agreed with God that I am a sinner and have trusted in the Lord Jesus and His death for me. I know I have eternal life because Jesus paid for all my sin. But it was not only for me that Jesus died; it was for you too. So, if you trust only in Him and accept His death as the payment for your sin, God will forgive you and give you everlasting life. p. 126

A note for the instructor states –

Some students may express their desire to put their trust in Jesus Christ and His death for them. Explain to those who seem ready that Jesus not only died but was raised from the dead on their behalf. p. 126

A small handout for students says –

– and if, after their journey through the blood-soaked account of the scriptures presented in the Firm Foundations materials, the instructor and Christian SRE can declare their ‘Mission accomplished’.

What the NSW Minister for Education and the scripture lobby do not want principals of public schools to know.

After three years of correspondence with both the previous and current Minister for Education and the Department of Education, FIRIS has exhausted all formal and bureaucratic means to have the Minister include a simple but very important statement in the Religious Education Implementation Procedures.

Not only has the Minister granted the scripture lobby’s wish to have a declaration of ‘no religion’ on the enrolment form ignored, he has also chosen to not make the necessary amendments which would ensure students are not placed in scripture classes without express consent from parents and caregivers.

See here for a detailed discussion of the history of the history of the changes to the enrolment processes.

By deciding not to amend the Religious Education Implementation Procedures and its supporting documents prior to the 2018 school year, of the 803,580 students enrolled in the 2018 school year, the Minister exposed  –
  • 230,157 students whose parents/caregivers declared ‘no religion’ and
  • 7,827 students whose parents/caregivers were recorded as intentionally not stating their religion or belief and
  • 107,321 students whose parents/caregivers left the enrolment form blank

– to the risk of being placed in a scripture class ‘deemed most suitable’ if the SRE Participation Letter was not returned.

Given that the Minister has still not made the necessary changes to the Procedures and its supporting documents, FIRIS has decided to take more direct action to try and prevent students being exposed to this risk in 2019.
Today FIRIS started forwarding the letter below to every public primary and secondary school principal in NSW to directly inform them about the important step in the enrolment process which the Minister and the scripture lobby do not want them to know about.
FIRIS is now calling upon its supporters to help us to bring this matter to the attention of every Parents and Citizens Association active in a NSW public school. FIRIS would like to enable P&Cs to take the necessary action to ensure that the rights and choices of all students and their parents and caregivers are respected and that schools are following the Minister’s and the Department’s procedural advice contained in the letter.
Therefore, FIRIS is asking its supporters to support us in one of the following ways –
  • Forward the contact details of the President or Secretary of the local P&C Association to FIRIS so we can contact them and request that the letter above be tabled and discussed at the next meeting, or
  • Request that this issue be placed on the agenda for the next meeting, and present the letter in person and put forward a motion requesting that the principal ensure that the rights and choices of all students and their parents and caregivers are respected. FIRIS would also liked to be informed of the outcome.

For non-NSW supporters wanting to help, please send an email to FIRIS and we can let you know how you can support us.

It is time to make it very clear – When it comes to scripture in Australian public schools, it is not a ‘yes’ if it is not a clear and informed ‘yes’.