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NSW Minister for Education questioned about failures in child-protection measures in SRE classrooms

While the spin-masters in the SRE lobby attempt to focus conversations about Special Religious Education (scripture) in public schools on ‘values’, FIRIS believes that the far more pressing matter of child protection and child safety should be at the centre of the discussion.

On Tuesday 29 May 2019 in the NSW Legislative Council Mr David Shoebridge did exactly that when he asked the NSW Minister for Education Mrs Sarah Mitchell the following question –

Given the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, why will the Government not require school principals to sight current working with children checks for priests, ministers and other religious figures before they are allowed to enter schools and to take control of children during scripture lessons?

For the transcript see here.

The Minister responded by stating –

The management of those requirements for providers of special religious education, including special ethics education, are outlined in the department’s Religious Education Policy. Under the policy, it is the responsibility of approved providers to verify the Working With Children Check of all scripture and ethics teachers

For a transcript see here.

Mr Shoebridge’s then raised some concerning issues regarding the Department’s processes and the Minister’s response.

Mr Shoebridge noted that “all employees and all volunteers who work with children in New South Wales public schools are required to show the principal a Working With Children Check, except those persons who are taking special religious education classes.” 

He then added –

For some special reason there is an exception for them and they are not required. Principals are not being provided with Working With Children Checks for those teaching special religious education. Why is this an issue? It is an issue because the organisations undertaking special religious education are expressly telling principals that they are not entitled to ask for Working With Children Checks for the ministers, priests and other religious people going into classrooms and dealing with children unsupervised. That is what happens with special religious education—it is unsupervised. (emphasis added)

Mr Shoebridge provided the Minister with an example from the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine for the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta who sent a letter to principals in the Diocese which said –

As in previous years all SRE volunteers have their WWCC numbers verified by the Diocese of Parramatta and whilst SREs will show their IDs, they are not required to provide their WWCC number nor the 100 points of ID expected of other volunteers to the school.

Mr Shoebridge pointed out that the diocese is insisting upon the right to get into classrooms and teach unsupervised without showing principals Working With Children Checks.

Download (PDF, 386KB)

FIRIS would also like to share another letter from the Catholic Diocese of Wollongong also reminding principals that they have no right to request to see the WWCC clearance numbers of SRE instructors.

Download (PDF, 70KB)

Let this sink in –

Principals, parents and caregivers of children in NSW public schools are expected to trust an organisation that has catastrophically betrayed the trust of the NSW, Australian and international community.

The fundamental problem here is the provision for SRE in the NSW Education Act 1990 which does not give the Minister or the Department  control or authority over the selection and authorisation processes used by SRE providers to engage their instructors. Therefore, they must rely on little more than the word of SRE providers in the form of an Annual Assurance.

In consideration of this reliance, Mr Shoebridge asked whether the Minister had “been made aware that the annual assurance reports that are to be provided by those religious institutions are often late or non‑existent and that those annual assurance reports are meant to be the checks for working with children?

The Minister responded –

With regard to the Working With Children Check annual assurance process for government schools, I inform the member of the following: The department sends the annual assurance by email to approved providers in term four. This must be returned before the start of term one the following school year. Approved providers will lose their approved provider status if the responsibilities outlined in the annual assurance are not addressed. (emphasis added)

In typical Department of Education style, the Minister simply paraphrased back to Mr Shoebridge the Special Religious Education Procedures which states –

The department’s SRE and SEE Officer will send to approved providers the annual assurance via email in term 4. This must be returned before the start of term 1 of the following school year. Approved providers will lose their approved provider status if the responsibilities outlined in the annual assurance are not addressed. [p. 7]

But FIRIS has already pointed out the fact that the Annual Assurance process is a grossly inadequate control measure in response to the risk of all forms of harm and abuse to NSW public school students.

In consideration of FIRIS’ audits of the annual assurance process, Mr Shoebridge then pointed out to the Minister –

To suggest that there is a protection for children through the assurance program is also wrong. Fairness in Religions in School [FIRIS]—which has done some really admirable work checking this—looked at the assurances being provided by those religious organisations, because those assurances are meant to guarantee to the department that the people going into the schools actually have Working With Children Checks. A report by FIRIS states:

An audit of the annual assurances submitted to the department for the 2017 and 2018 school years … identified that:

  • Of the 107 religious organisations included in the department’s list of approved SRE providers in NSW government schools, 3 did not submit an AA for the entire 2017 year and 23 failed to submit it by the due date. Of those providers, 6 submitted their AA more than five months after the due date.
  • Of the 107 religious organisations included in the department’s list of approved SRE providers in NSW government schools on 24 January 2018, 27 failed to submit an AA by the due date and 45, including three who did not provide a URL at all, did not meet the requirement to provide online location of information regarding child protection training.

There is no assurance. People are teaching unsupervised without Working With Children Checks.

See here for a full transcript of Mr Shoebridge’s statement.

FIRIS would like to add that on 5 February 2019 FIRIS lodged a request for copies of the 2019 Annual Assurances (AA) received by the Department by the due date of 29 January 2019. The requested information was released to FIRIS on 28 March 2019 and it revealed that of the 100 providers on the Department’s list dated 23 January 2019 –

  • There was no evidence that 10 providers submitted their assurance by the time the Department started to act on FIRIS’ request for information (28 Feb 2019).
  • 7 providers submitted their assurance after the due date.
  • One provider submitted an assurance without any of the required information.

The fact that there is no evidence that the failure to submit an Annual Assurance has resulted in the temporary or ongoing removal of approval to provide SRE, casts serious doubts on the integrity and effectiveness of the Department’s already inadequate and limited measures to ensure children are safe during the provision of SRE in NSW public schools. No Annual Assurance means that the Minister does not even have the word of providers that their instructors have undergone Working With Children Checks.

FIRIS also thinks that NSW parents and caregivers should be aware of the Department’s unwillingness to be transparent regarding the Annual Assurance process.

The independent 2015 Review of SRE and SEE recommended that the Department be more transparent regarding the approval process for SRE providers and that it publish relevant information on its website. However, FIRIS’ request for a blank copy of the 2019 AA form was only answered following a complaint to the Secretary of the Department based on advice received from the NSW Ombudsman. In its response, the Department stated that it released the document under the condition that FIRIS would not disclose it to third parties or publish it in any format.

Download (PDF, 568KB)

Download (PDF, 242KB)

FIRIS does not understand why a blank copy of a departmental document related to child protection should require a ‘gag order’. FIRIS believes that the contents of the documents SRE providers are expected to sign as part of the ongoing approval to deliver SRE should be freely available to the public.

In consideration of all of the above, FIRIS believes that there is something seriously wrong with this situation. How can it be that principals cannot make reasonable requests aimed at fulfilling their duty of care?

FIRIS believes that the NSW community should not continue to allow a situation in which the Education Act requires the Minister, the Department and principals of NSW public schools to rely on little more than the word of religious organisations, particularly the Catholic Church, when it comes to matters of child protection and safety.

‘Radical Jesus’ and ‘Hard Core Christians’ in NSW public school classrooms: Part Three – the problem with ‘believed-in’ religious instruction

This is the third part of a three-part investigation into the presence of ‘believed-in’, ‘sympathetic’ religious instruction in NSW public schools in the form of Special Religious Education (SRE – aka ‘scripture’).

The Sydney Anglican’s John Dickson has claimed that NSW Department of Education-employed teachers will never understand the Bible as well as a ‘middle-aged mum from the local church who’s been reading scripture for decades’.

Rather than risking choosing a ‘rogue’ SRE instructor, and considering Dickson’s acknowledgement that ‘there’s some nuttiness out there’, FIRIS thought the best way of getting a picture of what Dickson has in mind would be to look at the Sydney Anglican’s own Tim Clemens.

Clemens’ curricula Radical Jesus and Hard Core Christians must be a prime example of what Dickson means when he talks about ‘believed-in’, ‘sympathetic’ religious instruction, given that they were apparently used by the Anglican Diocese of Sydney in SRE up until 2016, and are both still sold by them through their publishing arm, Christian Education Publications.

Radical Jesus and Hard Core Christians have been discussed in the first two parts of this blog-series. This part will focus on the concerns and issues FIRIS has regarding the two curricula and the presence of ‘believed-in’ religion in NSW public schools.

Issue 1: The NSW Minister for Education and the NSW Department of Education have no control over the content of ‘believed-in’, ‘sympathetic’ religious instruction 

Given the provisions for SRE in Section 32 of the NSW Education Act 1990, the Minister for Education and the Department of Education do not have the power to control the content of SRE (see the letter and email below below.) –

Download (PDF, 707KB)

Download (PDF, 89KB)

Another letter from the Department states –

Aside from being satisfied the material is authorised, the Minister has no power under the Act to direct what is taught as part of SRE.

This means that the Minister and the Department cannot prevent an SRE provider choosing ‘believed-in’, ‘sympathetic’ religious instruction materials such as Radical Jesus and Hard Core Christians, and using them in NSW public schools.

Issue 2: The Anglican Diocese of Sydney, in whatever form (including Youthworks  and Christian Education Publications) has no power to control the content of SRE delivered by other providers

Given that the Minister for Education and the Department have no authority over the SRE curricula chosen by providers, it must be the case that SRE providers, curriculum publishers, lobby groups and supposed ‘quality control’ groups (such as All Faiths SRE) also have no authority over (other) SRE providers.

In response to FIRIS’ Facebook posts about Radical Jesus and Hard Core Christians, Youthworks wrote –

They went on to amend the post to state that FIRIS’ claims that the two curricula are being used in Stage 4 Anglican SRE are not true. However, the author pointed out to them that they cannot speak for other Anglican Dioceses (as will be demonstrated below). They then wrote –

 

Issue 3: As long as Christian Education Publications (CEP) continues to sell this material there is the likelihood that the materials will be used in NSW public secondary schools.

Despite the Anglican Dioceses of Newcastle and the Riverina both stating that Youthworks’ curriculum ‘Think Faith’ is authorised for use in SRE classes provided by the two dioceses, they state –

The local priest may authorise specific CEP material for use in high school SRE classes. Please note that CEP produce a wide range of materials for use in a number of settings. Only material complying with DoE guidelines, suitable for use in public schools, should be used in SRE classes.

– but how is ‘the local priest’ to know what CEP materials are suitable? What would make them unsuitable? What ‘DoE guidelines’ are the dioceses referring to?

The Special Religious Education Implementation Procedures say only that SRE instructors are to receive training in how ‘to implement the approved provider’s authorised curriculum sensitively and in an age-appropriate manner‘.

The 2019 Annual Assurance requires SRE providers to assure the Department that ‘the special religious education teachers are teaching the curriculum with sensitivity and in an age appropriate manner.’ Note that this is not saying that the curriculum materials must be ‘sensitive’ and ‘age-appropriate’, only that they must be taught in such a manner.

Both Radical Jesus and Hard Core Christians say very clearly that they were designed for use in Years 7 and 8 SRE in ‘State’ schools and given that Youthworks claims that the materials remain on sale for private schools, it is clear that Youthworks believes the curriculum materials are age appropriate.

The most important ‘guidelines’ saying how schools are to deal with controversial issues, including religion, and oversee the activities of, and the messages promoted by, ‘visiting speakers’ etc., the Controversial Issues in Schools Policy and its Proceduresdo not apply to SRE.

So, it seems that all of the materials sold by CEP for secondary schools may be being used in secondary schools in the two dioceses mentioned above.

This is a fundamental problem created by the provisions for SRE in the NSW Education Act.

Furthermore, in addition to the likelihood that the two curricula are being used based on the information currently available on the websites of the two Anglican Dioceses, FIRIS has also found specific references to Radical Jesus in the curriculum scope and sequence documents of at least one other SRE provider.

The ‘Religion and Ethics‘ page of Rouse Hill High School states –

Special Religious Education classes (SRE) are provided in public schools during school time by authorised representatives of approved religious groups. ‘Kellyville and Rouse Hill Christian Education Employer’ (KARHCEE) and the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta provide SRE at Rouse Hill High School.

Despite the fact that KARHCEE is not an approved SRE provider, and the approved SRE provider is not identified on the school’s website, there is a link provided to the curriculum page of KARHCEE where there is a link to the following document –

Download (PDF, 107KB)

Note the following references –

– and note the similarities with the contents page of Radical Jesus –

 

Issue 4: ‘Believed-in’, ‘sympathetic’ religious instruction as a vehicle for proselytising

John Dickson argues that ‘so long as there is a commitment to education not proselytising‘ adherents to a religion will do a better job at teaching it than professional Department of Education employed teachers.

But here is where it gets really interesting.

There is no statement in the Department of Education’s Procedures that proselytising is not allowed in SRE.

In fact, the Department has informed FIRIS that –

Given that parents/caregivers have indicated their preferred religious persuasion for their child on enrolment, proselytising should not occur in SRE classes.

However, the Department cannot state that only children belonging to the religious persuasion of the SRE instructor are in an SRE classroom. In fact, the Department, at the behest of the SRE lobby on its ‘consultative’ committee, had, since 2015 ensured that intentional omissions in the Procedures and its supporting documents, maximised the chance of children ending up in SRE without express consent (see here and here for more information).

Changes to the enrolment process in 2019 requiring parents to provide express consent are a step in the right direction but FIRIS has serious concerns that the processes are not being implemented correctly or consistently in many schools. FIRIS still sees principals telling parents that all students will be placed in SRE unless there is a written objection.

In addition, John Dickson believes that ‘many without Faith (and so without connection to a church) choose to enrol in SRE, because it is felt that religion is important‘.

Therefore, proselytising is a problem in SRE classrooms and if Tim Clemens’ curriculum Hard Core Christians is an example of what ‘believed-in’, ‘sympathetic’ religious instructors do and say in SRE classrooms, John Dickson may have a problem in his own backyard.

One of the main outcomes of the final chapter of Hard Core Christians is to invite the students to start attending a local church. In the Student Handbook, students are asked if they attend church and if they reply ‘no’ they are then asked to say what’s stopping them from trying it out.

Now, is this educational or is this proselytising?

It is interesting to note that the only mention of proselytising in a Department of Education document is in the Other Activities of a Religious Nature in Schools implementation document. In relation to ‘voluntary student activities of a religious nature in schools’ (VSA), such as lunchtime prayer groups, it says –

…students or members of religious persuasions do not engage in attempts to proselytise or convert non-adherents of their religion to their faith during school authorised activities. Proselytising or converting non-adherents refers to behaviours intended to put pressure on students who do not have permission to participate in VSA.

While employed as an SRE instructor at St Ives High School in Sydney, Clemens also led the VSA  Jesus Over Lunch Time (JOLT). His JOLT Leadership Manual states –

The Scripture teacher is like a sprinkler, in that he ‘sprays’ the gospel message over every student he comes into contact with. Christian students on the other hand are like cups that ‘pour’ the gospel message directly into the lives of their friends…Students must see it as their responsibility (not the Scripture teacher’s) to invite their ‘gospel-saturated’ friends along to JOLT. 

– and –

The leadership of JOLT reflects these student driven principles, and so it is the role of the Scripture teacher to oversee and support the students as they reach out to their peers. His role is like that of a coach.

– and –

Finally, there needs to be a culture within JOLT that everyone should go to church. That means if you don’t currently go to church, you should. We want people who are welcomed into the community at JOLT to be convicted of their need to join a church. This will almost definitely only happen if somebody within JOLT invites them along, and consequently members need to be constantly inviting those people in JOLT who don’t go to church to join them in going along.

In Hard Core Christians Clemens writes –

If you’ve never tried going to a youth group before, ask your teacher if he or she can recommend one. Grab a few friends and go together. Who know? You may actually discover that you really like it!

Parents and caregivers are not informed in any of the documents related to SRE that the NSW Department of Education allows this. In a letter to FIRIS, the Department has stated –

SRE and VSA volunteers may inform the students who participate in that SRE class or VSA group of related extra-curricular activities including local church groups.

Now back to John Dickson.

In the opinion piece mentioned in Part One, Dickson wrote –

None of us wants our children proselytised. That’s a given, and the program was never set up to convert anyone.

However, in the article ‘Schools key to the goal‘, the then-Archbishop of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney wrote that –

To convert ten per cent of the population, schools ministry must be a priority.

The Archbishop went on to say that –

Schools ministry is a key to the success of our mission and goal. Scripture in public schools and the work of our independent schools must be given high priority. (emphasis added)

– and –

Given all the scripture teaching and the efforts of our church schools, may we not by now have expected a greater inflow of people into our churches? Can we do more? I know that this is a matter of concern to Youthworks and others as well. Is there anything we can do to improve the bridge from school to church?

In the article ‘The forgotten mission field‘, Bryan Cowling, Sydney Anglican and then-Executive Director of the Anglican Education Commission, wrote –

Did you know that within the geographic boundaries of this Diocese there are over 1000 public primary and secondary schools as well as 130 non-Catholic or non-Islamic schools? All told, this represents more than 550,000 students between the ages of 5 and 18; probably some 300,000 families, and over 20,000 teachers…has anyone thought about the connections we already have as Anglicans with this incredible mission field?

It seems that members of the school’s executive at Clemens’ own St Ives High School heard Cowling’s call, declaring the high school a ‘great mission field’ on a video published by the Sydney Anglican church, Christ Church St Ives.

It also needs to be noted that the Dioceses of the Anglican Church of Australia in the Province of NSW are members of the Inter-Church Commission on Religious Education in Public Schools (NSW) Inc (ICCOREIS), an SRE lobby group made up of 15 Christian denominations. It should also be noted that the CEO of Youthworks, Mr Craig Roberts is the organisation’s Honorary Treasurer and one of the Representative Members for the Anglican Church of Australia, NSW Province.

ICCOREIS has made its intentions quite clear –

 

Issue 5: When it comes to SRE curricula, the devil is in the detail

The provisions for SRE in the NSW Education Act 1990 establish a system in which SRE providers are required to self-regulate their behaviour.

The 2015 Review of SRE and SEE in NSW Government Schools noted that –

…the procedures set out what is essentially a form of self-regulation for the delivery of SRE in government schools. Self-regulation in public policy always involves rights and responsibilities. For SRE the rights relate to the ability of SRE providers to access schools, determine teachers and the curriculum. [p. xvi]

– and –

Under the responsibilities of self-regulation, providers also have a responsibility for transparency to parents, the Department, school communities and the wider public, through publication of important information and the provision of regular monitoring. [p. xix]

According to Youthworks, the materials developed by Tim Clemens has been superseded by the curriculum Think Faith.

Given that the Queensland Department of Education and Training’s review of Youthworks/CEP’s Connect was the result of  the parents group Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools purchasing the materials and reviewing them, it is unfortunate that Youthworks do not allow parents to purchase access to the Think Faith materials for ‘private use’.

Download (PDF, 167KB)

Therefore, FIRIS cannot say whether or not Think Faith contains similar messages to the one’s expressed in Radical Jesus, Hard Core Jesus, or any other of the Jesus Foundation Series materials developed by Tim Clemens.

Conclusion

Education about religion is far too important to be left in the hands of over 10,000 volunteers who expose students to materials and activities the NSW Minister for Education and the Department of Education have no authority over.

Given John Dickson’s insult to the professionalism and capabilities of NSW Department of Education employed teachers, and given the examples of ‘believed-in’, ‘sympathethic’ religious education discussed in the three blogs, it is no wonder that the NSW Teachers’ Federation wants SRE out of NSW Government schools.

 

‘Radical Jesus’ and “Hard Core Christians’ in NSW public school classrooms: Part Two

This is the second part of a two-part introduction to the SRE curricula developed by the Sydney Anglican’s Tim Clemens. Clemens’ curricula is being presented in the context of John Dickson’s claim that the need for ‘believed-in’, ‘sympathetic’ religious instruction in NSW public schools is a ‘compelling’ reason for SRE.

In part one we looked at the curriculum ‘Radical Jesus’ and in part two we will look at the curriculum ‘Hard Core Christians’.

As in the case of Radical Jesus, the Teacher’s Manual (TM) for Hard Core Christians states that the curriculum is part of a series of products written by Tim Clemens for years 7 and 8 students studying Christian studies in independent schools and Special Religious Education in State schools. (emphasis added) [TM, p. 4] – see sample here (accessed 30.03.2019).

FIRIS would like to point out that we are not claiming that this curriculum is authorised for use by the Anglican Diocese of Sydney for use in public schools within the boundaries of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.

FIRIS will claim that the fact that the provisions for SRE in the NSW Education Act 1990 enable this material to be used is something parents and caregivers should be very concerned about.

The NSW Minister for Education, the NSW Department of Education, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney (= Christian Education Publications = Youthworks) and the supposed ‘quality-control-fix’ All Faiths SRE, have no authority over the choice of SRE curricula by (the other 99) SRE providers.

Furthermore, the general confusion and lack of monitoring by the Department and SRE providers means that it cannot be unequivocally stated by the Minister or the Anglican Diocese of Sydney that the material is not being used in NSW public schools.

Before taking a leap into faith and ‘believed-in’ religion Sydney Anglican style, FIRIS would like to suggest that the following information be read in the context of the statement from John Dickson (from the opinion piece mentioned in part one) –

None of us wants our children proselytised. That’s a given, and the program was never set up to convert anyone. 

FIRIS will return to this matter in part three, but for now, let’s look at what it means to put one’s faith in Jesus.

From the very beginning it is clear that one of the main aims of Hard Core Christians is to ‘challenge students to become wholehearted disciples of Jesus‘. [TM, p. 7]

A desired outcome of Lesson One is that students will ‘be challenged to put their own faith in Jesus‘. [TM, p. 8]

On the nature of this faith and in response to the ‘common’ question –

If a serial killer or someone like Hitler had put his faith in Jesus, would he have been saved from God’s judgement as well? [TM, p. 12]

– Clemens prompts SRE instructors to say –

‘Yes…because we don’t understand just how broken we all are’. [TM, p. 12]

– and adds –

Whereas we tend to compare ourselves to people like Hitler, God compares us to Jesus. It’s much harder to look impressive when you compare yourself to Jesus! On God’s scale, those who are perfect like Jesus go to heaven and those who are imperfect (the rest of us) deserve hell. (emphasis added) [TM, p. 12]

 

 

Clemens goes on to say in response to the ‘common’ statement and question – ‘So we’re not perfect’, you say. ‘Nobody is. Why does that matter?’

I know it sounds wrong that a repentant murder can go to heaven, but he’s no less deserving than any of us! Instead of complaining about God’s mercy, why not embrace it? Repent of your sin, put your faith in Jesus and receive his free gift of eternal life! [TM, p. 13]

In the Student Handbook (SH) students are told –

It can often be a hard realisation to discover that we don’t actually deserve God’s love and kindness. God isn’t impressed with our attempts to please him outside of our relationship with his Son. You might like to write a short prayer saying sorry to God for trying to earn your way into his ‘good books’. Use the space provided to do this (for example, ‘God, I am sorry for thinking I was good enough for you and that I did not need your help. Please forgive my pride. I need you to save me and forgive me.’). (emphasis added) [SH, p. 9]

– and then –

The truth is, there is nothing you can ever do to be good enough for God. It’s just not possible. Instead, you need to receive his gift of salvation by faith in Jesus. What would it look like if you decided to put your trust in Jesus today for the first time?

To help you answer this question, think about the two elements of faith.

  • What would it mean for you to entrust yourself to Jesus?
  • What would it mean for you to respond appropriately to Jesus? [SH, p. 9]

In Chapter 5 ‘Meeting with Other Jesus Followers’ students are presented with one ‘appropriate’ response to Jesus – to go to church.

One of the outcomes for this lessons is that by the end of the lesson students will ‘be invited to start attending a local church.’ [TM, p. 27]

In the Student Handbook, students are asked –

Do you attend a church regularly? Yes | No

If yes, why do you go? If no, what’s stopping you from trying it out?

– and to –

Write down a list of everyone you know who regularly attends a church, youth group or the Christian group at your school (if you have one).

It is then suggested to students that –

You may like to approach one of the people on your list after this class and ask them if you can join them next time they go. You might even enjoy it! [SH, p. 44]

– and later it is suggested to students –

If you’ve never tried going to a youth group before, ask your teacher if he or she can recommend one. Grab a few friends and go together. Who knows? You may actually discover that you really like it! [SH, p. 48]

But what if ‘parents’ wills contradict God’s will‘?

Clemens gives SRE instructors some ready-made answers to the ‘common’ question –

What if my parents don’t want me to go to church?

The first of the four suggested responses needs to be quoted in full –

Jesus unashamedly expects to be first priority in relationships. In Luke 14:26 Jesus says, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple’. This sounds incredibly harsh, but the point is clear: Jesus wants up to put him first. That being said, he’s not saying we have to hate our families (since he quotes the Old Testament commands to ‘honour your father and mother’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ [Matthew 19:19]]; he just wants to make sure that put him first. (emphasis added) [TM, p. 30]

This statement reinforces the message in response to the question in Radical Jesus –  “Do I have to give up my family to follow Jesus?

On that note, we will say a worrying goodbye to Hard Core Christians.

In FIRIS’ next blog we will consider the issues related to the presence of ‘believed-in’, ‘sympathetic’ religion instruction in NSW public schools (as identified in the two curricula) in the context of legislation and the Department of Education’s policies and procedures.

 

‘Radical Jesus’ and ‘Hard Core Christians’ in NSW public school classrooms: Part One

In early February, the Sydney Anglican’s John Dickson tweeted

There are two compelling reasons for Special Religious Education in schools: 1) Some religion or other profoundly shaped a child’s culture, and should form part of their education; 2) Trained adherents are better equipped to teach a living Faith than are teachers in general.

– and added –

And I would welcome anyone who is willing to debate this issue with arguments.

In response to the first ‘compelling’ reason FIRIS is simply going to state the fact that General Religious Education is currently included in the curriculum. Furthermore, FIRIS has complete confidence that professional teachers employed by the NSW Department of Education using NESA developed curricula have the necessary knowledge and competence to teach it.

This leads us on to Dickson’s second ‘compelling’ reason for SRE.

In an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph in 2015, Dickson wrote –

The main arguments against sympathetic religious education miss the mark. Some of the naysayers cite anecdotes of kids going home to mum in tears after of a [sic] scripture teacher’s ­insensitive remark about sin, or their denial of Santa, or because a piece of literature was handed out that does drift into proselytising. This can, and should, easily be fixed with better SRE protocols and training. [emphasis added]

He also called into question the feasibility of a “neutral” approach to religious education, claiming that in reality such an approach is ‘unworkable’. He wrote –

With everything else teachers have to know and do, they are never going to be able to understand the Bible as well as, say, the middle-aged mum from the local church who’s been reading scripture for decades.  

So let’s have a look at what can happen, and is happening, when ‘believed-in’, ‘sympathetic’ religious instruction is allowed in our public schools. However, instead of discussing ‘a middle-aged mum from the local church‘ we will introduce you to the Sydney Anglican’s own Tim Clemens of Grace City Church.

In 2009 Tim Clemens was employed as an SRE instructor at St Ives High School in Sydney. Clemens states

This was a great time of learning for me and taught me how to communicate the gospel in an often skeptical and sometimes hostile environment. It also gave me an opportunity to develop some resources for other SRE teachers. This experience grew within me a passion for evangelism and producing resources.

So Clemens is not just your ordinary case of a ‘sympathetic’ SRE instructor. He is an author of SRE curricula sold by Christian Education Publications   =  Youthworks = Sydney Anglicans.

A reasonable member of the NSW public would be justified in concluding that that what Clemens tells SRE instructors to do, say and present to students is an example of what the Sydney Anglicans/Youthworks/CEP think is OK to do, say and present to students in a ‘believed-in’, ‘sympathetic’ religious instruction class.

So let’s now look at what Clemens tells other ‘sympathetic’ SRE instructors to do, say and present to Year 7 and 8 students.

The two main curricula of interest, Radical Jesus and Hard Core Christians, can be found (in the sense of ‘can be purchased’) here (accessed 30.03.2019).

Part One of this blog will focus on Radical Jesus.

According to the Teacher’s Manual –

Radical Jesus is part of a series of curriculum products written by Tim Clemens for years 7-10 students studying Christian studies in independent schools and Special Religious Education in State schools. (emphasis added) [p. 4] – see sample of Teacher’s Manual here.

The title page of the book states – ‘10 lessons on the radical Saviour | For high school students in years 7 and 8‘.

The ‘Unit Overview’ lists the ‘radical’ key areas discussed in the curriculum, including –

4. Radical authority. Jesus showed that he has authority over everything in the natural world and in the spiritual world.

– and –

5. Radical followers. Jesus taught that those who want to follow him must give up their lives to do so.

– and –

8. Radical death. Jesus died on the cross even though he was God’s perfect Son – one who had never sinned.

– and –

9. Radical ascension. After 40 days, Jesus ascended into heaven as the King of the universe, where he reigns to this day. [p. 7]

We will now look at these four key areas.

Radical Authority

The ‘Big Idea’ of Chapter 4 is –

We need to submit our lives to Jesus because he has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. [p. 20]

An outcome from the lesson is that students will ‘consider whether they have submitted their own lives to the authority of Jesus.’ [p. 20]

The prayer for the lesson says –

Help us to see that we need to submit ourselves to your Son, Jesus, because he has all authority in heaven and on earth. [p. 21]

At the end of the Chapter the SRE instructor is directed to ‘Reinforce the Big Idea’ –

Make sure students understand that Jesus has authority over everything, and that they need to bring their lives under this authority by putting their trust in him and living lives of obedience.

In the Student Handbook, students are told –

Jesus wants us not only to recognise this supreme authority, but also to submit to it. [p. 16]

– and are asked –

3a. What do you think it means to submit to Jesus’ authority?

3b. Do you find the concept of Jesus’ authority compelling? Yes  No [p. 18]

In Chapter 7 ‘Radical Betrayal’, in response to the ‘common’ question –

What if I don’t want to obey God’s will? [p. 34]

– a suggested response is –

There will be consequences for disobeying God’s will. No one is perfect, but God wants us to put our trust in Jesus (john 6:29). If we refuse to trust in Jesus for forgiveness, we will be forced to suffer the consequences – God’s wrath. [p. 34]

Radical Followers

The ‘Big Idea’ of Chapter 5 is –

Jesus says that a true believer will deny him or herself, take up his or her cross daily and follow him. [p. 24]

Outcomes from the lesson include that students will ‘ be challenged by the call of Jesus to deny themselves and take up their cross daily’ and to ‘consider what it might look like for them to live as radical followers of Jesus.’ [p. 24]

At the end of the Chapter the SRE instructor is directed to ‘Reinforce the Big Idea’ –

Make sure the students understand that being a Christian is not just about calling yourself a Christian, but about living a radical life of obedience and self-denial. [p. 27]

Parents and caregivers may take some comfort in knowing that, in response to the ‘common’ question –

Do I have to give up my family to follow Jesus?

– the answer is ‘Yes and no’.

In the Student Handbook, students are asked to fill in some missing words from Luke 9:24 – For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it – and are then asked –

Having read this passage (V24), would you call yourself a follower of Jesus? Why or why not? [p. 22]

Later, in Chapter 9 ‘Radical Resurrection’ students are told –

Jesus promised that he would one day raise his followers from the dead and take them (and only them) to be with him in heaven. A follower of Jesus is someone who trusts in him and lets him be the boss of his or her life. (emphasis added) [p. 38]

– and are once again asked –

Would you call yourself a follower of Jesus? Yes No

Radical Death

The ‘Big Idea’ of Chapter 8 is –

Jesus died to secure forgiveness for all who put their trust in him. [p. 35]

An outcome from the lesson is that student’s will ‘explore the reality of death’ [p. 35] and here is how they explore it –

Radical Death? Ask students the question, ‘Has anyone ever had a pet that died? How did it die?’ You will need to be sensitive with this question because there may be one or two students who were particularly close to their pets. [p. 36]

– and from the Student Handbook –

 

Radical Ascension

In Chapter 10, the SRE instructor is prompted to ‘Reinforce the Big Idea’ –

Make sure students understand that Jesus is alive today and that he is ruling the universe. Encourage them to submit their lives to him. [p. 43]

The SRE instructor is encouraged to ‘give students an opportunity to start following Jesus by praying with them‘ –

‘Lord Jesus, I need you. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sin. I open the door of my life and receive you as my Saviour and Lord. Take control of my life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be. Amen.’ [p. 43]

The last paragraph of the Teacher’s Manual states –

To encourage a response from students, you might like to finish by saying something like, ‘If you are yet to say sorry to God and put your trust in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, now is an excellent time to do this. When Jesus returns it will be too late’. [p. 44]

End of Part One

In Part Two we will look at more examples of ‘believed-in’, ‘sympathetic’ religious instruction found in Clemens’ Year 7 and 8 SRE curriculum Hard Core Christians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A principal’s unprincipled tweet: or, Shits and giggles over parent frustration about SRE

A few weeks ago a principal of a NSW primary school thought that it would be a good idea to tweet the following –

 

– and here is the full image attached to the tweet –

 

 

Now, FIRIS has no idea why a NSW public school principal would think that this was an appropriate thing to do.

In fact, FIRIS thinks that a reasonable member of the NSW public would be justified in perceiving the tweet as making a mockery of a parent’s frustration regarding the need for them to opt their child out of SRE. However, the tweet exposes larger problems regarding SRE than simply a principal’s poor judgement call whether to-tweet or not-to-tweet.

Firstly, it reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of the NSW Department of Education’s policies and procedures regarding SRE.

When asked by someone why a ‘reason for objection to SRE’ had to be provided, the principal responded by saying that a reason was required by law and by the Department.

FIRIS quickly pointed out to the principal that Section 33 of the NSW Education Act 1990 does not require a reason but simply states –

No child at a government school is to be required to receive any general religious education or special religious education if the parent of the child objects to the child’s receiving that education.

FIRIS also pointed out that the Department’s Religious Education Policy and Special Religious Education Procedures do not require a reason for a parent’s objection to their child’s participation in SRE. The Procedures state –

A parent/caregiver may at any time notify the school in writing that they do not wish their child to attend SRE or to change their SRE nomination.

FIRIS let the principal know that we regard such a request for a reason as a potential violation of Article 3 of the United Nation’s General Comment 22 regarding the freedom of religion articles in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

no one can be compelled to reveal his thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief.

Needless to say, the tweet was quickly deleted.

However, FIRIS believes that the principal’s lack of knowledge and understanding of the Procedures has created this situation requiring the parent to respond in this way.

The Procedures have stated clearly since 2013 that once a parent or caregiver chooses or objects to SRE when enrolling their child in a school, their child continues in the ‘same arrangement as the previous year’ until the parent or caregiver requests a change.

The parent should not have to be objecting to SRE for a second time.

SRE apologists might try to dismiss the above by stating that the principal’s lack of knowledge and understanding is an isolated case.

However, before we respond to such potential claims we need to look at what makes this instance even more concerning.

The principal in question is a Vice President on the State Executive of the NSW Primary Principals’ Association (PPA), an organisation which has a representative on the Department’s SRE Consultative Committee. This Committee is meant to provide advice to the Department about SRE and SEE in NSW Government schools. However, the lack of knowledge and understanding demonstrated above gives rise to questions regarding the ability of the PPA to ensure the rights of non-religious parents and caregivers and their children are protected and respected.

Now to the larger problems…

An audit of school websites currently being conducted by FIRIS is revealing that a lack of knowledge and understanding of the Department’s Procedures is widespread.

One concerning discovery has been the failure of principals to check that religious groups are an approved SRE provider before allowing them to enter NSW public schools. FIRIS has already had one confirmed case reported on in the Sunday Telegraph and we are awaiting confirmation regarding another.

A far more widespread problem is the unbelievably low rates of compliance with the simple requirement to provide links to SRE curriculum scope and sequence documents on school websites. Schools have known since December 2017 that this was required by the beginning of the 2019 school year.

However, of the 486 primary school websites audited so far by FIRIS , only 8 websites (1.64%) have contained links to other information. Furthermore, of the 29 links included in these 8 website pages, only 17 were clear links to curriculum scope and sequence information.

Even more concerning, is the general confusion and misrepresentation of SRE evident on school websites. This confusion casts serious doubts that principals have implemented the new 2019 enrolment processes correctly. These doubts are being confirmed by the SRE and SEE Participation Letters coming into FIRIS’ possession.

It seems that 2019 will be another year in which students are exposed to the risks associated with SRE without informed and express consent from their parents, requiring FIRIS to take these issues beyond the conflict-of-vested-interests Minister for Education.

 

 

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.