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Eyes Wide Shut: or, how the NSW Department of Education has made its SRE policies and procedures meaningless.

The Special Religious Education Procedures and the support materials state that if a NSW Government school offers SRE its website is to contain –

  • general information about Special Religious Education (SRE – commonly referred to as ‘scripture’), Special Education in Ethics (SEE – commonly referred to as ‘ethics’), and Alternative Meaningful Activities (AMA – commonly referred to as ‘non-scripture’) on the ‘Learning at our school’ page, and
  • links to the approved providers’ authorised curriculum scope and sequence(s).

Although not explicitly stated, FIRIS believes that the Procedures also infer that schools should provide current information about approved providers working in their school, including a link to the approved SRE provider’s website.

 

In February/March 2019 FIRIS conducted audits of the websites of primary and secondary schools in the Metropolitan North and Regional North school districts.

In Metropolitan North, of the 228 primary school websites visited, only 4 websites contained links to other information. Across these 4 pages there were 20 links identified. Only 11 of the links provided were clear links to curriculum scope and sequence information.

Of the 62 secondary school websites visited, only 6 websites had links to other information. 6 of the 9 links identified were clear links to curriculum scope and sequences.

In Regional North, of the 258 primary school websites visited, only 4 websites contained links to other information. Across these 4 pages there were 9 links included. 6 of the links provided were clear links to curriculum scope and sequence information.

Of the 54 secondary school websites visited, only 1 website had a link to other information. This single link was identified as a direct link to a curriculum scope and sequences.

 

A second, more comprehensive and exhaustive audit of the 79 secondary schools in the Metropolitan North school district conducted between 29 July 2019 and 18 August 2019 found that of the 69 secondary schools that offered SRE:

  • 47 provided information on their website indicating that SRE was being provided at the school.
  • 17 identified the approved SRE providers as listed in the Department’s list of approved providers, and provided a link to the provider’s website.
  • 25 provided a link, or links, which ultimately led to a curriculum scope and sequence document.
  • 27 identified that there were ‘alternative meaningful activities’ at the school during the time allocated to SRE.

Of the 69 secondary schools providing SRE, only 5 schools (7.2%) met all of the Department’s requirements regarding the provision of information regarding SRE and AMA on their websites.

If the requirement to list providers and provide a link to their website is ignored, 13 schools (18.8%) met all of the other requirements.

 

In addition to the low rates of compliance, FIRIS’ three audits also found –

  • one religious organisation providing SRE in at least three Government schools without approval from the NSW Minister for Education.
  • one religious organisation (Jesus Racing) was referred to as an approved SRE provider but in response to questions from FIRIS was identified by the Department as an organisation providing ‘voluntary student activities of a religious nature’ (VSA) in schools.
  • school websites stating that they will place students without express consent from parents / caregivers contrary to information provided by the Minister in 2017 and contrary to the current enrolment process as described in the 2019 enrolment flowchart.
  • ‘SRE and SEE Participation Letters’ not identifying the approved SRE providers forming a ‘combined arrangement’ for the purposes of delivering SRE, despite clear statements in the supporting documents for the Procedures that they should.
  • statements that all ‘Christian’ students will be placed in ‘Christian’ SRE, ignoring denominational and potential sectarian differences, and without informed and express consent from parents and caregivers.
  • schools stipulating a need to opt-out of SRE prior to weekly or annual events, contrary to the previous and current enrolment process.
  • inclusion of guest speakers as part of SRE who may represent organisations not approved to provide SRE in NSW Government schools.
  • SRE listed, and referred to, as a course approved by the Board of Studies and the Department.
  • SRE instructors included in lists of school staff members.
  • one school with its own Religious Education Policy based on the pre-June 2013 Religious Education Implementation Procedures indicating a lack of awarenss that there have been two major revisions of the Procedures since.
  • widespread confusion and misinformation regarding SRE, such as referring to the following organisations/groups/individual as ‘approved SRE providers’-
    • religious lobby groups
    • SRE curricula, e.g. Connect
    • SRE curriculum publishers
    • specific individuals
    • specific churches
    • SRE Boards and Associations
    • third parties (including Generate Ministries and Youthworks)

 

On 9 September 2019 FIRIS wrote to the NSW Minister for Education and brought to her attention the findings of the audits mentioned above.

FIRIS informed the Minister that the evident widespread failure of schools to provide parents and carers with the required information regarding the content of SRE and the evidence that students are being placed in SRE without the express consent of their parents and carers formed part of complaints sent to the Office of the Children’s Guardian and the NSW Office of the Advocate for Children and Young People in June 2019.

In consideration of the risks to student health, safety and wellbeing associated with the provision of SRE in NSW Government schools, FIRIS requested that the Minister provide us with information regarding the measures the Department will take to ensure that no student is currently, or will be in future, placed in an SRE classroom without the informed and express consent of their parent/s or carer/s.

Download (PDF, 323KB)

 

On 25 September 2019 the Department of Education’s Director responsible for the implementation of SRE responded on behalf of the Minister –

Download (PDF, 222KB)

FIRIS believes that the parents and carers of NSW Government school students should be very concerned at the Director’s response and his seeming lack of interest in acting in a timely manner to what FIRIS considers to be serious breaches of procedures at a time of heightened sensitivity about the right to freedom of beliefs and issues related to religious organisations and child safety.

Unfortunately, all the evidence is pointing to the fact that 2020 is going to be another year in which the Department of Education fails to ensure that the rights of all students and their parents/carers are respected and the health, safety and wellbeing of all students are protected.

How long is the NSW Minister for Education prepared to tolerate a Directorate which fails to monitor what is going on in NSW public schools, thereby rendering its own policies and procedures worthless, while all-too-conveniently benefiting SRE providers.

Could it be that, like her Department, the Minister for Education is prepared to place the self-interest of religious organisations over and above the rights of all students and their parents and carers?

A lesson in how to maximise student attendance in SRE by stealth.

In a ChristianSRE press release earlier this year, the organisation’s CEO Murray Norman claimed that ChristianSRE had evidence that some NSW public schools have been failing to follow the new enrolment process for SRE, thereby potentially ‘robbing‘ parents of the choice of SRE. He stated –

If a parent doesn’t want religious education for their child that’s their choice. However, if they didn’t even have the opportunity to choose because they weren’t provided with a form, the school has denied them that right by stealth…We are calling on all schools to make sure the correct forms are provided to each parent, not left on a counter or stuffed in a child’s school bag. Furthermore, schools need to be proactive in chasing up forms not returned. (emphasis added)

Like ChristianSRE, FIRIS wants schools to follow the new enrolment processes for SRE, Special Education in Ethics (SEE) and ‘alternative meaningful activities’ (AMA – aka ‘non-scripture’).

Unlike ChristianSRE, FIRIS is quite prepared to share evidence to back up our claims that schools are failing miserably to do so.

Since March this year FIRIS has been conducting audits of NSW public primary and secondary school websites in order to find out if schools are following the 2019 Special Religious Education Procedures correctly.

For example, schools were made aware in December 2017 that by the beginning of Term 1 2019 their websites were to provide links to the approved SRE providers’ authorised curriculum scope and sequence documents.

However, audits of the websites of primary and secondary schools in the Metropolitan North (Sydney) and Regional North (Hunter) school districts in February this year found that –

  • of the 486 primary school websites visited, less than 8 (1.64%) contained the required links to the curriculum scope and sequence information of the relevant SRE curricula.
  • of the 116 secondary school websites visited, only 7 (6%) had links to curriculum scope and sequences.

Now whether this can be regarded as ‘robbing’ parents and carers of their right to information, FIRIS will leave it up to the reader to decide.

Further comprehensive audits of secondary schools in Metropolitan North and primary schools in Rural North in August to October, have yielded more results giving rise to little faith that the right of parents/carers to make an informed choice is being respected by schools or that the new enrolment process for 2019 has been implemented correctly.

A prime example is Castle Hill High School (CHHS) in the Metropolitan North school district.

Provision of general information about SRE, SEE and AMA

The Procedures and the supporting documents state that if a Government school offers SRE its website is to contain general information about SRE, SEE and AMA on the ‘Learning at our school’ page.

The ‘Religion and ethics‘ page on CHHS’ ‘Learning at our school’ page states –

Special Religious Education (SRE) will be provided for students in Year 7 – 10.  The seminars are organised by the Australian Christian Churches, operating as Castle Hill Christian Education Association, which is a collective of local churches.

– and provides the following links –

Christian SRE High School Curriculum Scope and Sequence

Special Religious Education (SRE) Participation Letter 2019 

However, the ‘Religion and ethics’ page provides no information about AMA so parents/carers are not made aware of the alternative option/s for students who do not take part in SRE.

But wait – there’s more information regarding SRE on the ‘CHHS Scripture Organisation‘ page.

On this page, parents and carers are informed that scripture seminars are organised at least once a term for students in Years 7, 8, 9 and 10. They are also told that scripture is co-ordinated by a person employed by the local churches who is on the school site three days a week. The page states –

The Scripture Co-ordinator is located in the Library, organises the teachers of Scripture, oversees the content of classes and acts as a general pastoral care contact for all students.   The Scripture Co-ordinator acts in conjunction with Welfare personnel attending school social activities, school camps, and liaising with the staff at staff meetings.

However, once again, no mention is made of AMA.

Links to the approved providers’ curriculum scope and sequence(s)

As mentioned above, the Procedures and the supporting documents state that if a Government school offers SRE its website is to contain links to the approved providers’ authorised curriculum scope and sequence(s).

A direct link is provided to the scope and sequence document of the SRE curriculum used at the school (see image below).

However, it should be noted that the Procedures state that curriculum scope and sequence documents should have “sufficient detail for parents/caregivers and schools to be able to understand what is covered in SRE lessons.

FIRIS will leave it up to the reader to decide whether the scope and sequence document above fulfills this requirement.

The SRE Participation Letter

In 2019, the ‘SRE and SEE Participation’ became available for use as the means of enrolling students in SRE, SEE or neither, rather than the religion question on the general enrolment form, the ‘Application to enrol in a NSW Government school’. In February 2019, the SRE question was removed completely from the form, so in 2020, the ‘SRE and SEE Participation Letter’ will be the sole means of enrolling a student in SRE, SEE (if available) or AMA.

Regarding the participation letter, the Department’s  ‘SRE and SEE Flowchart’ (November 2018) states –

The participation letter needs to be updated with the name of the approved provider(s) working in their school. If a combined arrangement, the school needs to make it clear which approved providers are involved. (emphasis added)

The CHHS ‘Special Religious Education (SRE) Participation Letter‘ linked to the school’s ‘Religion and ethics’ page fails to include all of the approved providers involved in the combined arrangement at the school (see image below).

Similar to the information provided on the ‘Religion and ethics’ page, it is simply stated that ‘SRE is organised by the Australian Christian Churches, operating at Castle Hill Christian Education Association, which is a collective of local churches‘.

However, despite mentioning the approved provider Australian Christian Churches, the school fails to identify on the SRE Participation Letter all of the approved SRE providers forming the combined arrangement.

It also needs to be noted that ‘Castle Hill Christian Education Association’ is not an approved provider of SRE in NSW Government schools and that the association may not be the same as the combined arrangement.

 

The letter also provides the option – ‘Please check this box if you do not wish for your child to attend SRE. Your child will participate in alternative meaning activities.’

However, note that the letter makes no mention of what will occur if the letter is not returned to the school.

This is where it gets very interesting.

The ‘tucked-away’ SRE Participation Letter

On 20 February 2019, as part of the news item ‘Scripture Seminars 2019‘, CHHS published another version of the ‘SRE Participation Letter‘ (see image below).

The letter stated –

If you do not want your child to take part in SRE for 2019, please complete the information below, and have your child return it to the box outside Ms Dane’s (Deputy Principal) office by 1st March 2019. Those students not participating in SRE will be supervised by a classroom teacher during SRE seminar time.

If the information below is not provided to the school, we will assume that you are comfortable with your child attending SRE during 2019. 

However, this is a clear violation of the Procedures as described in its supporting documents.

The Department’s  ‘SRE and SEE Flowchart’ (November 2018) states –

If the student starts school before the return of the participation letter, the student is to participate in alternative meaningful activities pending a response.

– and the Department’s ‘Principal Checklist – SRE & SEE’ (December 2018) states –

Update the SRE and SEE Participation letter with the name of the approved provider(s) working in their school and ensure it is given to parents/carers in the enrolment pack or at the time of enrolment. Students participate in alternative meaningful activities pending a response and principals make all reasonable attempts to receive a response from parent/carers and keep the written response on file. (emphasis added)

Now given that the tucked away letter reveals the high likelihood that CHHS has been placing students in SRE without the express consent of parents and carers, a reasonable member of the NSW public may think that the adjective ‘stealthily’ may be quite apt here.

More concerning, however, not only is this letter evidence that the school failing to follow the Procedures, it is also a clear indication that the Directorate responsible for the provision of SRE is failing to monitor what is going on in schools and thereby rendering its own policies and procedures worthless. The findings of FIRIS’ audits make it clear that the Directorate’s frequent reply to our complaints, that is, that principals are responsible for the implementation of policy at the school level, obviously includes the option of ignoring them without consequences.

This breach of the Procedures may go some way to explaining why CHHS had the abnormally high SRE attendance rate of 84% in 2019 as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald in July this year, particularly given that in 2018, of the 1724 students at CHHS, 398 students (23.1%) had ‘no religion’ declared on their enrolment form, 292 students (17%) did not make their choices known and 223 (13%) students belonged to non-Christian religions.

 

 

 

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.

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’.

 

 

The smokescreen mantra of ‘choice’: or all choices are equal but some are ‘more equal’ than others

Last month the NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley announced that Labor wants to make it easier for parents to choose between scripture (aka ‘special religious education’ or ‘SRE’), ethics (aka ‘special education in ethics’ or SEE’) classes or neither (aka ‘alternative activities’) in NSW public schools.

Shadow Minister for Education Jihad Dib sees it as a very simple thing to do, that is –

 ….go back to the [enrolment] form that was in use before the Liberal-National government changed it. Allow parents to just tick the box, without the need to write additional letters – or creating more confusion. 

The Minister for Education, Rob Stokes, is reportedly ‘pleased that Labor supports our view’ and has claimed that he has spoken to the Department of Education’s Special Religious Education Consultative Committee (the SRE-CC – mainly made up of religious organisations) and they have indicated that they too are happy for the enrolment form to change.

The Minister’s newfound willingness to consider changing the enrolment form is good to hear given that he has previously chosen to not support the recommendation in the 2015 independent review of scripture and ethics that his Department should ‘assess the suitability of the new school enrolment form (October 2015) and processes to ensure these are clear and working as intended.’

So, it seems ‘choice’ is the mantra with both sides of NSW politics and scripture providers all eager to declare their respect for the rights of all parents and caregivers to choose between scripture, ethics, or alternative activities.

Therefore, FIRIS believes it is timely to make public the results of more than five years of tracking changes to the enrolment process, corresponding with the Ministers for Education and the Department of Education and using NSW’s freedom of information law to get important documents such as the minutes of the SRE-CC.

What FIRIS has found reveals a a very different picture to the one painted by the Minister and the scripture lobby when it comes to a respect for the choices of all students and their parents/caregivers..

We will start by looking at the SRE-CC and what its members’ past actions and statements can tell us about their respect for parent/caregiver choice. In particular, we will consider the statements and actions of the scripture lobby’s most frequent spokesperson, Murray Norman.

Murray is the Presbyterian Church’s representative on the SRE-CC, a board member of the pressure group, the Inter-Church Commission of Religious Education In Schools (ICCOREIS), the CEO of ChristianSRE (an offspring of ICCOREIS) and the Deputy Chair of Generate Ministries, the main employer of scripture instructors in NSW secondary schools.

According to ChristianSRE, ‘Murray brings a business mindset to thinking strategically about ministry’ evident in ChristianSRE’s marketing mantra ‘It’s your right of choice. Because faith is an individual thing.’

In response to NSW Labor’s commitment to return the option of ethics to the enrolment form, ChristianSRE claimed that they ‘are keen to work with all stakeholders, to ensure that parents get a choice’ –

Furthermore, following a recent report  that a high school in northern NSW was ignoring the choice of parents and caregivers and placing their children in scripture against their express wishes, Murray claimed in an interview that scripture providers respect the choices of parents and caregivers and that scripture providers and schools follow the Department’s ‘sound’ procedures. According to Murray –

It’s not actually for the churches or the SRE providers or the principals to choose where they go, it’s up to the parents. And what we’re keen to do is encourage everyone to be following that…

See here for a full transcript of the interview on Hope 103.2 FM (14 March 2018).

But alas, when we consider the scripture lobby’s response to the first roll-out of the enrolment form that Labor is now proposing we return to, all is not what Murray would have us believe.

The controversial version of the enrolment form including the option of ethics was originally released in June 2014.

 

 

On 10 November 2014 Murray Norman sent an email with attached documents to Dr David Cullen, then the Department’s Director responsible for scripture and ethics. The documents outlined the scripture lobby’s desired changes to the enrolment form above and enrolment processes.

 

Download (PDF, 876KB)

 

Murray’s email was also sent to the following people who are still current members of the SRE-CC –

  • John Donnelly (then representing the Catholic Church – now representing ICCOREIS)
  • Jude Hennessy (Catholic Church)
  • Alison Newell (Catholic Church)
  • Dr James Athanasou (Greek Orthodox)

Dr Cullen then forwarded Murray’s email and its attachments to all members of the SRE-CC with the statement – ‘Murray Norman will be talking to these documents at our meeting tomorrow’. The minutes for the Committee meeting on 11 November 2014 record these documents as having been tabled and discussed.

The following attendees at this meeting remain as current members of the SRE-CC:

  • Murray Norman (Presbyterian Church)
  • John Donnelly (then representing the Catholic Church – now representing ICCOREIS)
  • Jude Hennessy (Catholic Church)
  • Alison Newell (Catholic Church)
  • Rachele Schonberger (then representing the NSW Board of Jewish Education – now representing All Faiths SRE)
  • Emma Parr (Uniting Church of Australia)
  • Shoko Creedy (Baha’i Council)
  • Rob Walker (Primary Principals’ Assoc.)
  • Jane Simmons (Department of Education – Chair)

The table in the attachment to Murray’s email named ‘141106_DEC Enrolment Form Procedure.docx’ states very clearly how the scripture lobby on the SRE-CC wanted the enrolment process to work.

The SRE Participation Letter had been introduced by the Department earlier in 2014 in response to Recommendation 12 of the Final Report of General Purpose Standing Committee No 2, Education Amendment, (Ethics Classes Repeal) Bill 2011.

What is important to note at this point is that the table above indicates a declaration of ‘no religion’ or ‘none’ was no longer regarded by the scripture lobby on the SRE-CC as evidence that a parent/caregiver was objecting their child receiving religious instruction.

In response to such a declaration, the scripture lobby wanted the SRE Participation Letter sent home listing the available scripture options at the school and providing parents/caregivers with the option to withdraw (most likely for the second time).

Furthermore, in the days following the SRE-CC meeting on 11 November 2014, a member [or members] of the SRE-CC argued for the removal of the prompt to write ‘no religion’ on the enrolment form because responding to the question ‘What is the student’s religion?’ was ‘already optional’ and the ‘answer will likely be one of the major religions represented around the table at our meetings’. It was also argued that –

The inclusion of ‘no religion’ is to prejudice or bias the results by suggesting a category and thus to skew data collection. As the question is now optional, the fact that the parent or caregiver writes something indicates an existing religious awareness or preference.

– but more on this later.

Now this is where it gets very interesting and where the smokescreen mantra of choice clears and the lack of respect for the rights and choices of a large number of students and their parents and caregivers is exposed.

What to do if the SRE Participation Form was not returned?

This question is important because the answer will make clear the Department’s default position regarding the scripture enrolment process. Is it the case, that in the absence of a clear direction from parents/caregivers, the Department’s default position is that the children of such parents are placed in a scripture class? Or, is the default position to place such students in alternative activities thereby respecting and protecting the rights of such students and parents as outlined in international human rights instruments?

It is clear from the attachments to Murray Norman’s 10 November 2014 email what he and other members of the scripture lobby on the SRE-CC wanted. Once again, the table in attachment 141106_DEC Enrolment Form Procedure.docx is very revealing.

If the SRE Participation Letter was not returned, the student was to be ‘enrolled in the SRE program deemed most suitable‘.

The scripture lobby’s suggestion for the SRE Participation Letter (141106 SPECIAL RELIGIOUS EDUCATION PARTICIPATION FORM local School.doc) also makes it clear –

If no preference is indicated, the school will enrol your child in the SRE program deemed most suitable unless the school is informed otherwise by you, as the parent/caregiver.

– as does their suggested amendment to the REIPs (Attachment: 141106 DEC Implementation Procedures.doc) –

When the school has informed parents/caregivers of the options for special religious education and the parents/caregivers have not exercised their right to select an option, the student is enrolled in the Special Religious Education class deemed most suitable.

A reasonable member of the NSW public might now want to ask Murray to explain all of this in the context of his recent March 2018 statement –

It’s not actually for the churches or the SRE providers or the principals to choose where they go, it’s up to the parents.

Many parents and caregivers may be confused about who the scripture lobby expects to be doing the deeming if the SRE Participation Letter is not returned. One thing is certain though, it is obviously not the parents or caregivers.

However, you might be thinking at this point that these were only the suggestions of the scripture lobby on the SRE-CC. Therefore, let’s now have a look at what the previous and current Minister for Education, and the Department have done in response to these suggestions.

In December 2014 the REIPs were changed.

The statement in the previous REIPs  –

Where a religious persuasion was not nominated, the student is placed in alternative activities.

 – was replaced by –

Where a religious persuasion was not nominated on enrolment, or the nominated religious persuasion is not available as a special religious education program at the school, parents/caregivers are informed of other special religious education options available at the school. [emphasis added]

The REIPs also now included a reference to a letter template – the SRE Participation Letter – to be used to offer parents/caregivers ‘the available special religious education options, where a religious persuasion was not nominated on enrolment.’ However, neither the REIPs nor any of its supporting documents said what a school should do if a parent/caregiver chose to leave the SRE Participation Letter blank or if it was not returned at all.

Based on information obtained using NSW’s freedom of information law, it appears that in response to a complaint from an unknown person about the impact of the new enrolment form on the number of students enrolling in scripture and direct involvement and pressure from the NSW Premier’s office, in mid-December 2014 a memorandum to schools was issued to all public school principals.

The memorandum directed principals to send the SRE Participation Letter to all parents of students enrolling in Kindergarten or Year 7 for the 2015 school year but did not say what a principal should do if a parent/caregiver chose to leave the SRE Participation Letter blank or if it was not returned at all.

The memorandum did make it very clear that scripture does not compete with alternative activities or ethics –

It is important to note that both information about SEE where it is available and an offer for parents/caregivers to nominate for their child to attend SEE should not be made until a parent/caregiver has formally withdrawn their child from SRE.

The minutes of the 11 November 2014 SRE-CC meeting also made it very clear that the scripture lobby were not prepared to tolerate ethics being ‘set up against‘ scripture. The attachment to Murray Norman’s 10 November email (141106_Issues with SRE – compiled.docx) also demonstrates that the scripture lobby took issue with ethics and scripture ‘being offered together as equal options‘.

In late July 2015 further changes were made to the REIPs by replacing the statement –

Where a religious persuasion was not nominated on enrolment, or the nominated religious persuasion is not available as a special religious education program at the school, parents/caregivers are informed of other special religious education options available at the school.

– with –

Where a religious persuasion was not nominated on enrolment or the nominated religious persuasion is not available as a special religious education program at the school, parents/ caregivers are asked to complete a special religious education preference form [i.e. SRE Participation Letter] which outlines all special religious education options available at the school. [emphasis added]

Once again, there was no statement about what was to happen if the ‘special religious education preference form’ – the SRE Participation Letter – was not returned or was returned blank.

So it seems the Department granted the scripture lobby and thus the SRE-CC’s wish that the SRE Participation Letter be sent home in response to an ‘Incomplete religion question on the enrolment form’ (see the first table above ‘141106_DEC Enrolment Form Procedure.docx’).

In August 2015 a complaint was sent to the Department regarding these amendments to the REIPs. It was pointed out to the Department that the removal of the explicit direction to place a student in alternative activities if a scripture class was not nominated on the enrolment form enabled schools to place a child in scripture without the express consent of the students parents/caregivers.

Furthermore, it was pointed out that in the event of this happening, parents and caregivers could not appeal to the REIPs as part of a complaint.

The complainant requested that evidence that the letter had been tabled and discussed at the next meeting of the SRE-CC be provided along with an outline of any actions to be taken in response to the complaint.

Dr Cullen, the then Director responsible for scripture and ethics, responded by saying:

Schools follow their normal procedure if a parent does not return their preference for a SRE class or to withdraw their child from SRE. Recommendation 41 from the Rawlinson Report 1981 states that a parent must notify the school of changes in enrolment or intended withdrawal in writing.

Nonetheless, Dr Cullen wrote that the complainant’s comments had been taken on notice and would be considered in any future review of the REIPs. He also confirmed that the complainant’s letter and concerns had been added to the agenda of the next SRE-CC meeting. Therefore, we can assume that those present at the SRE-CC meeting on 10 November 2015 were made aware of the contents of the complainant’s letter and the concerns that the rights of students and their parents/caregivers were being violated.

It is important to note here that the following attendees at that meeting remain as current members of the scripture committee:

  • Murray Norman (Presbyterian Church)
  • John Donnelly (then representing the Catholic Church – now representing ICCOREIS)
  • Jude Hennessy (Catholic Church)
  • Alison Newell (Catholic Church)
  • Rachele Schonberger (then representing the NSW Board of Jewish Education – now representing All Faiths SRE)
  • Emma Parr (Uniting Church of Australia)
  • Dr James Athanasou (Greek Orthodox Church)
  • Shoko Creedy (Baha’i Council)
  • Roslyn Deal (then representing the P&C Federation – now representing ICCOREIS)
  • Rob Walker (Primary Principals’ Assoc.)
  • Michael Rathborne (Secondary Principals’ Council)
  • Jane Simmons (Department of Education – Chair)
  • Joshua Chenery (Department of Education – SRE & SEE Officer)

 

Early in October 2015 the current version of the enrolment was released.

The choice was supposedly simple – parents and caregivers seemed to have the option to identify the student’s religion if they wanted the student to participate in scripture and also the option to leave it blank which one would assume would be enough to be saying ‘no’ to scripture. It should be noted that is how it has been explained by Christian scripture pressure groups, such as Generate Ministries.

Granting the wish of the scripture lobby on the SRE-CC to have the prompt to write ‘No religion’ removed, furthered the perception that leaving the section blank would be regarded as an objection to scripture; falsely it turned out…

Because the REIPs current at the time said that if parents did not complete the section of the enrolment form related to scripture they were to be sent the SRE Participation Letter. Furthermore, those REIPs still failed to include a statement about what was to happen if parents/caregivers did not return the SRE Participation Letter or returned it blank.

However, the seeming lack of respect for the rights of all students and their parents/caregivers does not end there.

Despite being made aware of potential violations of the rights of a large number of NSW public school students and their parents and caregivers, not only did the Department and the SRE-CC choose to not make the REIPs more robust, they chose to increase the number of students at risk of having their rights violated.

In April 2016 the Department granted yet another significant wish of the scripture lobby on the SRE-CC.

Even though the Department had removed the prompt to write ‘no religion’ from the October 2015 enrolment form, the choice of parents who used their own initiative to do so was now to be ignored. A declaration of ‘no religion’ in response to the question  ‘Please identify the student’s religion if you want the student to participate in SRE’ was no longer to be regarded as an indication that the parents or caregiver did not want their child to participate in scripture.

The statement in the SRE and SEE fact sheet released in April 2015

If ‘no religion’ is written, students participate in meaningful activities

– was replaced in the April 2016 fact sheet by –

If ‘no religion’ is written, or where there is no nominated persuasion or the persuasion is unavailable, then the principal is to send a letter containing general information about how SRE, SEE and alternative meaningful activities are organised, as well as a SRE participation letter to parents/caregivers. The SRE participation letter outlines the options available for SRE including the option to withdraw. (emphasis added)

The statements in the April 2015 Implementing Special Religious Education (SRE) and Special Education in Ethics (SEE) in NSW Government schools flowchart –

The parent/caregiver has written ‘no religion’ on the enrolment form → Student engages in meaningful activities during SRE time.

– were replaced in the April 2016 flowchart by –

The parent/caregiver has left the religious persuasion blank or has written ‘no religion’ on the enrolment formPrincipal to send letter to the parent/caregiver containing general information about how SRE, SEE and alternative meaningful activities are organised, as well as a SRE participation letter. The SRE participation letter outlines the options available for SRE including the option to withdraw. (emphasis added)

There was, and still is, no statement in either document about what is to occur if the SRE Participation Letter is not returned or if it is returned blank. The only statement in the flowchart relating to the non-return of a form/letter is in reference to a parent/caregiver not returning the letter offering them an opportunity to enrol in ethics SEE. Only if that letter is not returned is the specific direction given to place the student in alternative activities.

The sending of the SRE Participation Letter to parents and caregivers who have already declared ‘no religion’ or ‘none’ thereby requiring them to opt-out again is an unjustified and unconscionable act by the Department. By doing so, the Department has significantly increased the number of students at risk of being exposed to the religious instruction of others without express consent from parents/caregivers, and in many cases contrary to the expressed wishes of their parents and caregivers.

What part of ‘no religion’ do the Minister and the scripture lobby not understand?

In consideration of the information above, in September 2017 FIRIS sent a letter of complaint about the enrolment processes to the Minister for Education. In addition to the issues raised immediately above, FIRIS also pointed out that from April 2016 onwards both the Principal Checklist – SRE and SEE and the SRE–SEE–VSA FAQs did not, and still do not, tell parents and caregivers what happens if the SRE Participation Letter is not returned or if it is returned blank.

Dr Paul Wood, the new Director responsible for scripture and ethics, replied on behalf of the Minister that ‘if ‘no’ religion is written…then the school should send a SRE participation letter to parents/caregivers which outlines the options available for SRE including the option to withdraw.’ Given the ongoing reluctance from the Department to say what was to happen if the SRE Participation Letter was not returned, FIRIS wrote to Dr Wood and asked him the direct question:

“What advice would you recommend be provided to a principal who asks ‘where should a student be placed during the time allocated to Special Religious Education when their parent/s or caregiver/s have been sent the ‘SRE participation form’ but the form has not been returned or it has been returned blank or without a clear statement of the parent’s intentions?’ ?”

After waiting 6 weeks for an answer, and following advice from the NSW Ombudsman, FIRIS wrote to the Secretary of the Department of Education,  Mark Scott, and asked the same question.

In mid-November, Rod Megahey, the new Director responsible for scripture and ethics, responded on behalf of the Secretary. His letter repeasted sections of Dr Wood’s letter but added:

If the SRE participation letter to parents/caregivers is not returned, it is expected that the school would made all reasonable attempts to seek a response from the parents/caregivers regarding whether the student participates in SRE at the school.

If the parents/caregivers do not return the SRE participation letter, the student will engage in alternative meaningful activities during the time allocated for SRE. Suitable activities include reading, private study and completing homework. (emphasis added)

On 21 September 2017 Ms Jo Haylen, Labor MLA for Summer Hill, asked the Minister for Education in the NSW Legislative Assembly:

What is the procedural response from the Department of Education and ⁄ or the Minister for Education if a Principal requests advice as to how to enrol a student whose SRE Participation Form is not returned?

The Minister for Education responded over a month later:

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

Now a reasonable and principled member of the NSW public might think that since both the Minister and his representative have finally clearly stated what is to happen if the SRE Participation Letter is not returned they would make sure that the REIPs were amended accordingly.

Unfortunately, this was not the case.

No changes were made to the REIPs before the beginning of the 2018 school year. This means that of 803,580 students enrolled in the 2018 school year  –

  • 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

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

Furthermore, those students whose parents/caregivers nominated a religious persuasion not available at their school were also exposed to this risk, particularly the 105,556 students that had a specific religious persuasion declared on their enrolment form for which there was, and is, no available scripture provider in NSW Government schools approved by the Minister.

In February 2018, in consideration of the fact that the REIPs had not been amended prior to the beginning of the 2018 school year FIRIS wrote another letter of complaint to the Secretary of the Department, Mark Scott.

FIRIS was also alarmed that proposed Special Religious Education Procedures scheduled for implementation on 30 January 2019, also did not contain measures to protect and respect the rights of all parents and caregivers and referred to documents which had not been amended in consideration of the Minister’s response to Jo Haylen.

FIRIS also sent a copy of this letter to the Shadow Minister for Education, Jihad Dib, who then wrote to the Minister for Education and who received the reply:

Download (PDF, 400KB)

Compare this letter word for word to the one received by FIRIS from Rod Megahey mid-November and note the glaring omission.

Download (PDF, 2.61MB)

The Minister has failed to include the statement –

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

Needless to say, at the time of writing (6 July 2018) neither the current REIPs (dated December 2016) nor the proposed 2019 Procedures or any of the supporting documents have been changed to reflect the Minister’s responses to Jo Haylen or his Department’s response to FIRIS.

So what does all of this reveal about those rushing to declare their respect for parent and caregiver choice now that NSW Labor has made the enrolment form an election issue?

The information above demonstrates that the current Minister for Education’s newfound commitment to respecting parent and caregiver choice is questionable given –

  • his decision to dismiss the 2015 recommendation to review the current enrolment form thereby indicating that he believes the enrolment form and its associated processes were ‘clear and working as intended’
  • his decision to not amend the REIPs to ensure a declaration of ‘no religion’ on the enrolment form is respected as a ‘choice’
  • his seeming willingness to allow his Department’s policies, procedures, processes and practices to enable students to be placed in a scripture class without express and informed consent from their parents or caregivers

It seems the Minister is OK with parents and caregivers having a choice, but it seems he is not so interested in ensuring that that choice is respected, protected and acted on in with any integrity by his Department.

The history of the changes to the enrolment process reveals that the senior Department of Education representatives have amended policies and procedures resulting in the increased risk of the rights and choices of a significant number of students and their parents and caregivers being dismissed at the school level and violated.

In consideration of the audits completed by FIRIS demonstrating the failure of the Department to monitor scripture in any meaningful way and the failure of far too many scripture providers to fulfill their obligations in a self-regulating system, the failure of the Department to develop robust policies and procedures exposes it to the risk of failing to fulfil its duty of care obligations by minimising the risk of students being exposed to the content of scripture lessons and the actions of scripture instructors without express and informed consent from parents and caregivers.

The minutes and associated documents of the SRE-CC, particularly those relating to the enrolment form – and the process Labor is proposing a return to – demonstrates

  • at best, the inability of the SRE-CC to recognise, respect and protect the rights of all students and their parents/caregivers, or
  • at worst, a deliberate dismissal of the rights and the choices of a significant cohort of the NSW public school community with the intention of  increasing the chance of students being funnelled into scripture classes without express and informed consent from parents and caregivers.

So what next?

Given that FIRIS has exhausted all formal and bureaucratic channels to have the Minister ensure that the rights of all students and their parents/caregivers are respected throughout the enrolment process, we are in the process of seeking legal advice based on a 125 page document outlining the history of amendments to the enrolment process including 79 pieces of supporting evidence.

Given that the Minister has chosen to not ensure that his reply to Jo Haylen is reflected in his Department’s policies, procedures and supporting documents FIRIS will be calling upon its supporters to participate in direct actions over the coming weeks and months aimed at ensuring the rights of all students and their parents/caregivers are respected in the 2019 school year.

It’s time to make it very clear, it’s not a ‘yes’ if it’s not a clear and informed ‘yes’.

 

Do not rest ‘assured’ that children are safe when scripture instructors walk through public school gates

Fairness in Religions in School (FIRIS) has released its report containing concerning findings that far-too-many providers of Special Religious Education (SRE, aka ‘scripture’) in NSW public schools are failing to meet NSW Department of Education policy requirements related to child protection and parent/caregiver access to information.

The provisions for SRE in the NSW Education Act 1990 create a system which is self-regulated by providers because the NSW Minister for Education (the Minister) has no authority over the selection and authorisation of SRE instructors, the content of SRE curricula and lessons, or the instruction methods used.

Therefore, when it comes to matters related to child protection and child safety all the Department can do is ask SRE providers to give their word that they have child protection systems in place and that their lesson materials are age-appropriate and are being followed by their instructors. This is done by requiring SRE providers to submit a written Annual Assurance to the Department of Education that:

  • they have procedures to ensure compliance with the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012 and that they:
    • have evidence that instructors approved to teach SRE in public schools have obtained a NSW Working with Children Check (WWCC) clearance
    • keep copies of WWCCs on record.
  • only authorised materials and teaching methods will be used and that:
    • lessons will be taught sensitively and in an age appropriate manner
    • a copy of the age appropriate curriculum and/or the curriculum outline used in schools is provided to the public on a website.
  • a system of accredited initial and ongoing training for volunteer teachers includes training in classroom management and child protection issues is in place.

Download (PDF, 536KB)

Download (PDF, 175KB)

In February this year, FIRIS wrote to the Department and, in accordance with the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009, obtained copies of all Annual Assurances submitted to the Department for the 2017 and 2018 school years.

An audit of the Annual Assurances was conducted and found that for the 2017 school year:

  • of the 107 religious organisations included in the Department’s list of approved SRE providers in NSW Government schools (17 January 2017):
    • 3 did not submit an Annual Assurance for the entire 2017 school year yet did not have their approval revoked by the Minister or the Department
    • 23 failed to submit an AA by the due date (27 Jan 2017) and, of these providers, 6 submitted their AA more than five months after the due date
    • 8 did not provide a URL identifying the location of their authorised curriculum in the appropriate space provided on the document.
    • only 4 provided a URL direct to a curriculum outline / scope and sequence document.

For the 2018 school year:

  • 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 Annual Assurance by the due date (29 January 2018)
    • 45, including three who did not provide a URL at all, did not meet the requirement to provide the online location of information regarding child protection training
    • one provider did not enter a URL in the appropriate space provided on the document for a location of their authorised curriculum
    • only four provided a URL direct to a curriculum outline / scope and sequence document.

The failure of far-too-many providers to lodge an Annual Assurance before the due date at the beginning of both 2017 and 2018, and the omissions and inconsistencies in information demonstrates that far-too-many of the 100-plus providers have little interest in or respect for accountability, and that the current system of self-regulation of SRE is woefully inappropriate, particularly as a significant aspect is compliance with the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012.

That three providers who seemingly failed to lodge an Annual Assurance for 2017 were allowed to provide SRE in NSW Governments throughout the 2017 school year calls into question the efficacy of the annual assurance process.

These findings are also concerning given that both the Department and scripture providers appealed to the annual assurance process in response to a number of the recommendations of the 2015 review into SRE and SEE, in particular those recommendations related to the provision of online curriculum information.

It has been a requirement of the Department’s Religious Education Implementation Procedures (REIPs) since June 2013 that providers of SRE ‘make lesson content accessible on a website or at least provide a program outline and curriculum scope and sequence documents.

In December 2014 the independent reviewers of SRE and Special Education in Ethics (SEE, aka ‘ethics’) commissioned by the Department found that only just 39% of SRE providers had curriculum information accessible on a website.

FIRIS’ first audit in June 2016 also found that 61 of the then 105 providers (58%) did not have the required information available at the web address provided by the Department.

When the Department had this brought to their attention they replied that the information did not need to be at the web address provided by them, but rather just on a website, so since then FIRIS audits have involved simply looking to see if parents can at least find the name of the curriculum being used so they can do an internet search.

In mid-February this year, FIRIS conducted an audit based on the Department’s list of approved providers dated 16 February 2018. This audit identified that of the 107 approved providers, 14 allegedly failed to even identify or mention the curriculum used by their instructors. Of these 14 alleged non-compliant providers, 12 had not been found compliant in any of FIRIS’ four previous audits.

This is not good enough! It seems that the Department has no problems not only not providing a direct link to a provider’s curriculum on their website but also not even ensuring a provider at least mentions which curriculum it uses on its website. In a Schroedinger-esque piece of policy writing, these 14 providers may or may not be fulfilling their obligations, and the Department can dismiss complaints that parents and caregivers have no way to make an informed decision as to whether their children should be exposed to the instructors and the content of the lessons of these 14 providers.

Scripture providers have had over five years to meet the simple requirement to have their curriculum information available on the internet. It must also be noted that FIRIS’ audit did not consider the quality of information provided, which in many cases is extremely inadequate.

With regards to compliance and quality, it is clear that many providers are not interested in ensuring time-poor parents and caregivers can make an informed decision regarding their children’s participation or non-participation in SRE. The independent SRE reviewers ARTD Consultants should not have had to restate the requirement (as one of their recommendations):

All providers to place in the public domain their curriculum scope and sequence and that this be in sufficient detail for parents/ caregivers and schools to be able to understand what is covered in SRE lessons. [Rec. 18]

Despite the Department’s SRE Consultative Committee supporting this recommendation and stating that ‘SRE Providers agree to post on their websites a direct link to the syllabus outlines of SRE Program(s) they authorise for use by their SRE Teachers’, FIRIS’ February 2018 audit found that, out of the 250 links to the 65 different curricula used, only 80 (32%) were directly linked to either a curriculum outline, syllabus outline, or a scope and sequence document.

Even in the case of the most used curriculum, only 4 out of the 53 links provided take parents directly to the curriculum outline. The rest require parents to navigate through the publisher’s main website or other websites, and one even takes parents to a completely different curriculum.

All of the information above calls into question the SRE Consultative Committee’s response to Recommendation 18 that ‘most SRE Providers already comply with this condition of the Annual Assurance Letter to the NSW Department for Education.’

FIRIS’ audits paint a very different picture.

The veracity of the Department’s oft-repeated statement in correspondence to FIRIS that its personnel continue ‘to work closely with providers of SRE in relation to their responsibilities and expectations’ is also highly questionable.

That the Department has little interest in holding SRE providers accountable is demonstrated by the apparent failure to verify the information provided in the Annual Assurances per se, and the failure to withdraw approval to the three providers who failed to submit an annual assurance for the 2017 school year.

In consideration of FIRIS’ findings – of failures of far-too-many SRE providers to meet the simple requirements of the annual assurance process – the NSW public should have little confidence that SRE providers are capable and/or willing to fulfil their obligations in a self-regulating system and that the NSW Department of Education is overseeing and managing child-protection and safety during the time allocated to SRE, and that it is failing to adequately mitigate existing and foreseeable risks of various forms of abuse of NSW public school students.

Download (PDF, 2.07MB)

NSW Labor left faction agitates to remove scripture classes from public schools – The Guardian

In NSW schools, scripture can be provided for no less than 30 minutes a week and no more than an hour. Teachers are volunteers or paid representatives of religious organisations. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

NSW Labor left faction agitates to remove scripture classes from public schools

Naaman Zhou – The Guardian
Monday 17 July 2017 11.26 AEST

A plan to remove scripture classes from New South Wales public schools will be put forward at Labor’s annual state conference by the party’s left faction.

All public schools in NSW have to provide at least 30 minutes a week for optional religious education classes, but students who opt out are not allowed to undertake any educational activities during that time.

The proposal’s backers are looking to emulate a move by the Victorian Labor government, which in 2015 removed scripture from the school curriculum, meaning the classes could only occur before or after school, or at lunchtime.

However, proponents have already encountered opposition from the party’s internal committees, with the education committee recommending its rejection.

A member of the education committee, Adam Shultz, who supported the removal of scripture classes, said it was reasonable to follow Victoria’s lead.
“We’re pouring so much money into Gonski, why are we throwing away valuable class time? We’re keen to see classroom time focused on the syllabus.
“If you held it outside class time, it would be a lot better for everyone,” said Shultz, a Labor councillor for Lake Macquarie City Council.
“We’re not the first movers on this. Victoria has already gone down this path, and we should in our view, follow suit.”

In NSW, scripture, known as special religious education (SRE), can be provided for no less than 30 minutes a week and no more than an hour, and is held during ordinary class time. Schools can also provide secular ethics classes alongside scripture, after they were introduced in 2011, but there is a shortage of qualified instructors.

But students who opt out of both must read or undertake private study instead of regular classwork.

Parents are also lobbying the Parents and Citizens Federation for changes to the rules governing what schools can do while scripture is being taught, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

The NSW Labor shadow education minister, Jihad Dib, said neither he nor the leader of the opposition, Luke Foley, had plans for the removal of scripture.
“It is a long-held position of NSW Labor that in recognition of the diversity of Australian society we support parental choice in educating children about their faith,” Dib said.

“Many policy suggestions are raised at conference [and] as a party our conferences have always been a robust forum to discuss a range of ideas.”
However Darrin Morgan, the NSW director of Fairness in Religion in Schools, a group which opposes school scripture classes, called for the laws to change.

“Students in scripture have the power to stop the learning of all other students – it’s ridiculous,” he said.

“That learning time, which is given to volunteer teachers or paid representatives of religious organisations, should be returned to professional educators and they can make up their mind how to fill that space.
“We are not against learning about religion in schools, it just should be taught by trained Department of Education teachers.”
A 2015 review into SRE in government schools, which was completed in 2016 but only publicly released in April this year, found 75% of parents were dissatisfied with the kind of activities their children did while others were in scripture or ethics class.

The opinion of educators was mixed, with 71% of primary school principals satisfied with the alternatives provided, but the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council expressed “serious concern” that scripture was “denying the opportunity for learning for others”.

The report eventually recommended that students should be allowed to continue regular classwork during scripture time.
Critical principals quoted in the report said SRE made “timetabling difficult” and “created logistical issues” in schools where the majority of students opted out.

“SRE is the only area where the choices made by some (often very few) prevents other students from exercising their normal rights to learning,” said one.

The Anglican archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, said Labor’s policy should not change.

“Previous Labor governments as well as the current shadow minister have always been supportive of special religious education and the involvement of various faiths and cultures in the school community,” he said.
“The recent independent report on SRE and ethics showed significant community satisfaction with the present system. I believe this support transcends political affiliation.”

The education minister, Rob Stokes, has argued scripture lessons are a tradition in NSW public schools.

“Religious education classes have been offered in public schools since 1848 and have been supported by all NSW governments since then,” Stokes said.

“There is a longstanding policy and legal framework supporting freedom of religion and conscience in NSW public schools.”

In June, at a meeting with Dib and Stokes, Bishop Peter Ingham of the Catholic Diocese of Wollongong said SRE in schools was a sign of “a mature and inclusive education system”.

SRE has been provided in NSW government schools since the 1800s. In 2015, the report found 92% of primary schools had SRE or ethics classes, as did 81% of secondary schools.

Seventy-one per cent of primary school students participated in scripture or ethics, compared with only 31% of secondary school students.

In Victoria, in-school SRE was replaced with a relationships education program that taught content on preventing domestic violence, appreciating diversity, and world histories, cultures and faiths.
However, the current NSW Labor proposal does not specify a replacement.
Shultz said he would advocate for the change at the state conference, which runs from 29 to 31 July, and “see how it goes”.

“We will agitate for change,” he said. “Fingers crossed we can get a result.”

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/jul/17/nsw-labor-left-faction-agitate-to-remove-scripture-classes-from-public-schools

Adjournment speech: Freedom of Religion – Lee Rhiannon

lee-rhiannon.greensmps.org.au/articles/adjournment-speech-freedom-religion

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:29): I am an atheist. I grew up with a strong belief that freedom of religion is fundamental to democracy. In my teenage years, I was fortunate enough to be a member of the Young Humanists. There were some wonderful times that further strengthened my respect for and interest in different beliefs and different viewpoints.

I was growing up when the US, with Australian support, was waging war in South-East Asia. Millions of people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were killed. This brutality brought home to me that those who cannot countenance any views at variance with their own create a recipe for civil unrest, oppression and an authoritarian state. These days I am troubled by the intolerance political leaders like Prime Minister Turnbull and US President Donald Trump use to retain power. Today’s announcement by the Prime Minister that 18C is on the chopping block is an attack on the tolerance and respect our society is built on. We need to remind ourselves that Australia is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is worth remembering the exact words of article 18. It states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…

Everyone has the right—

… to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

And no-one will be coerced into or prevented from adopting or manifesting a religion or belief.

Belief refers to all personal worldviews, religious or otherwise, that influence our understanding of the universe and everyday behaviour. I certainly believe that is how we should interpret it. It also requires not only freedom of one’s own belief but also freedom from the imposition of belief by others. So it would seem that all modern states agree to the requirement that the state itself cannot impose or direct any religious position on its citizens. It must support religious tolerance and respect for minority views and ensure equality of all beliefs before the law. In other words, a secular state defends human rights and remains strictly separate from any religious institution.

However, these universal rights in fact are frequently and seriously eroded in many countries, including Australia. There are some startling examples around the world. Saudi Arabia, a member of the UN Human Rights Council, has recently imposed a new so-called terrorism law which prohibits any atheist thought in any form and any disloyalty to the country’s rulers or criticism of Islam. There is a death sentence for apostasy. Similar positions are espoused by Islamic nations wishing a strict form of sharia law. In India Prime Minister Modi and his Hindu fundamentalist BJP party have become associated with book banning and censorship that curtails other religions and viewpoints. The Buddhist government of Sri Lanka has systematically committed cultural genocide towards the Hindu Tamil minority, destroying temples, raping women and confiscating land.

These are just a few examples that arise when nation states are ruled by religion. This too often leads to abuse. Catholic dominated countries such as Poland and Ireland have banned women from accessing abortions, and are causing so much harm, tragedy and death in the course of that very bad policy. Christian and Muslim fundamentalism and all religious fundamentalisms are products of the intolerance, racism and extremism that go hand in hand with religious states.

In Australia, our constitution does not link our society with any religion. However, when it comes to the separation of state and church we are not doing very well. In 2009, J Perkins and F Gomez, in their paper Taxes and subsidies: the cost of ‘advancing religion’, printed in the Australian Humanist, estimated that the annual gross cost of religion to the Australian taxpayer is $31 billion. It makes for a fascinating read. The big cost is tax exemption granted to the powerful, big Christian churches. They are extremely wealthy, with enormous land and building resources for which they pay no rates. In by far the majority of cases they were given the land for free. Arguably, the budget deficit could be erased if the big churches paid their fair share of tax. The Catholic Church, in particular, is a powerful political lobby. The church hierarchy believes in the sanctity of marriage between man and woman, the rights of the foetus over the rights of the mother and homosexuality is a sin, as is abortion.

Religious intolerance has been the driver of much discrimination in our society. Until recently, people were jailed for homosexual behaviour. Marriage equality is still not legal. Abortion remains a criminal offence under New South Wales law. All this is despite the fact that the clear majority of Australians believe these bans are undemocratic and a violation of citizens’ rights to act on their own beliefs. I certainly acknowledge that there are many religious people who strongly advocate for an end to all these forms of discrimination, but the religious institutions in this country have power that is destructive, undemocratic and not respectful of other views.

Scripture in public schools is a stand-out example of where the power of religious groups needs to be reined in. Growing up in an atheist household, I remember my parents regularly emphasising how important it was for me to respect people of all faiths. I was at primary school in the 1960s. When it came time for scripture most students went to what was then called Church of England scripture. There were also Catholic and Jewish scripture at my school. In the playground, however, religion did not figure at all in how we viewed each other—or anything for that matter. I attended non-scripture classes, but what I quickly found out was that were no actual classes. I was either sat on my own or given jobs while the other students went to scripture classes. When I was given the job of cleaning the toilets during non-scripture time I knew something was wrong. Today I do not hear of students being sent to clean the toilets as an alternative to scripture classes, but we still have a long way to go. Religion inserts itself into public education in Australia where it should not be. If parents wish to have their children instructed in a religious faith, that should not be done within the public education system.

Since 2006 the federal government has funded the National School Chaplaincy Program. The program was brought in by former Prime Minister John Howard. The chaplains are paid to provide general support for students, not specific denomination instruction. They are not qualified to deal with mental health issues, bullying, and relationship or sexual advice.

Most chaplains are sourced from explicitly evangelical organisations, often providing programs that are apparently designed to provide support and friendship, but which in fact aim to—and this comes from their material—’make God’s good news known to children’. The employment of chaplains and the teaching of Scripture do not give equal respect to the multitude of other mainstream religions or alternative denominations, nor to the 23 per cent of people in Australia who have no religion. Indeed, the explicit aim of many Christian organisations is to convert children while they are young and impressionable.

Most Australian states do have education acts that specify that government schools will provide a secular education, one that does not promote one set of religious beliefs over another. Sounds good; however, special religious instruction is provided in most schools, usually offered by church volunteers. The New South Wales Department of Education has confirmed it has had Crown Solicitor’s advice that a New South Wales education minister:

… does not have the power to control the contents of SRE—

special religious education—

under the current provisions of the Education Act.

That is wrong, deeply wrong.

Recent reviews in Queensland and New South Wales have raised concerns about the content of Scripture classes. Members of the New South Wales Department of Education’s special religious education committee have stated that the aim of Scripture in New South Wales public schools is ‘teaching all to obey Jesus Christ’. Yet, as noted by some senior church leaders and by the Greens’ state justice spokesperson, David Shoebridge, much of the material is out of date and inappropriate for children. Worse, it can place children at risk of child abuse. In practice, parents are given little information or alternative options. Students either conform to the standard Christian scripture class, or else they are required to engage in menial, boring, punitive tasks that can create a negative label for those students.

Religious organisations are exploiting out-of-date legislation and flawed education department policies, like those we have in New South Wales, to treat public schools as an open door to promoting their religion. The New South Wales Department of Education’s special religious education committee is made up of members of the SRE lobby, which has said that the aim of Scripture, as I said, is about teaching children to obey Jesus Christ. Nearly 90 per cent of the approved SRE providers in New South Wales are Christian. The system does not respect the rights of students, parents or caregivers with nonreligious beliefs, and I would argue that people of other faiths are not being respected either. As I said, I would argue that that should be outside the education department, but at the moment many people’s children are being pulled into a Christian Scripture when they may wish their children to be taught otherwise.

Over a year, special religious education takes up 20 to 40 hours of curriculum time while that religious education is taking place. Students not participating in this religious education are not allowed to engage in academic instruction or formal school activities. I really do strongly urge people who are following this—and I hope people do—to look at the reports that have come out of the Queensland Department of Education and Training. They have actually looked at some of the religious education coming out of New South Wales, including Sydney Anglican’s Connect program and other materials used in New South Wales. They have found that they have contained material: that is inappropriate for the target age group; that has topics that include murder, prostitution and animal sacrifice; that may encourage undesirable child behaviours, such as keeping of secrets and the formation of special friendships with adults—likened to possible grooming behaviour; that has the potential to affect the social and emotional wellbeing of particular students; that can be seen as aimed at converting students to Christianity. The full title of that report is Report on the review of the Connect religious instruction materials from August 2016. It was put out by the Queensland government’s Department of Education and Training.

Coming back to New South Wales: when it comes to religious education and when it comes to our education system with regard to how religion is being handled, the system is just not good enough. The law states that the Minister for Education has no control over what is taught during special religious education. Special religious education is actually not delivered by teachers who are employed by the Department of Education, but is delivered by sometimes paid but usually volunteer representatives of religious organisations. A Department of Education teacher does not even need to be present during SRE. When you consider the standards that I think many people hope and believe our schools follow, particularly with police checks that are run on people who work with children, the lack of standards when it comes to special religious education, at least in New South Wales, is quite extraordinary.

As well as a Department of Education teacher not needing to be present during special religious education, principals can put children into special religious education without consent from parents and caregivers. The department does not even have a policy that makes it clear that those people volunteering, the volunteering SRE instructors, are not to try to convert students to their religious education program, their churches or their religion. That is why I said that you can see why parents are raising their concerns, that it is about capturing children while they are very young and converting them to usually Christian religions. The law requires principals to actually divide students up based on the religious beliefs of their parents and caregivers and send them to special religious education, where they receive instructions in the beliefs and practices of one religion. Special religious education is not inclusive. It is not education about world religions. By far in the main it is about the Christian religion. That is why I made that emphasis before. I think the whole system is wrong, and not just for non-religious people but for people of other faiths. How this system is being run is clearly troubling and certainly undemocratic.

This is quote from a former special religious education teacher at a high school: ‘As a scripture teacher there is rarely a day where I do not tell students the message of Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no-one else”. The message of the Bible is that you will be sent to hell unless you repent of your sin and trust in Jesus for your salvation. You need to do it now.’ So the situation is troubling.

What I would argue is that education about religions in state schools should be delivered by teachers employed by the education department. I am certainly not arguing that religion should not be talked about or taught in our schools, but it should be taught by teachers about different religious beliefs not as a belief system where a particular church or a particular belief system, a particular faith, is being promoted to try and capture those students into that particular faith. It should be done in a way that is respectful of the secular nature of our state schools. Religion should be another part of our education, rather than being about promoting a faith.

The Greens support the New South Wales Department of Education statement that: ‘Schools are neutral grounds for rational discourse and objective study’. But a lot of work needs to happen to get it back to that point. We also support FIRIS, Fairness In Religions In School. It is a very fine organisation that believes that the education department should apply its policies consistently and fairly throughout every school day.

I would really urge people to acquaint themselves with this issue. Increasingly, education is becoming more and more important. I think that is becoming more widely recognised. It needs to be done in a way that is inclusive, respectful and is not about pushing barrows of certain faiths. I am not arguing that those faiths do not have a place in our society. I respect that. But our education system should not be used to indoctrinate young people. Religion, in terms of promoting faith, should be separate from our education system. Thank you.

NSW Public Schools Should Opt Out Of Religion

Amelia Kirby original link here
Writer and social commentator

Special religious education (SRE) has no business in public schools. The system in which special religious education is the default option and special education in ethics is opt in only, and only then when volunteers are available, must be changed.

We are constantly told how tight the curriculum is, and subjects such as languages, for example, often don’t make the cut. Yet each week half an hour is lost to religious education, and an invaluable opportunity to teach our children goes with it.

Yes, ethics is available in many schools, assuming there is an effort to coordinate the delivery of these classes. But this is not a consistent offering across NSW as although the Department of Education states that ethics should be offered, it is dependent on the availability of volunteers who are not provided by the Department. SRE instruction is mandated by the Department, which again does not provide the teachers who are instead approved by whichever religious persuasion they’re representing. This is confusing and inconsistent and parents would not stand for it in any other circumstance.

In 2010, an amendment to the Education Act made the concession to allow parents and caregivers to opt their children out of SRE in order to attend special ethics education. But you have to opt out; the default is that you will attend the SRE class of the religion you declared at enrollment. Ethics class is offered only after you have opted out of SRE initially.

If ethics is unavailable, it is then the responsibility of the school principal to ‘support’ SRE by “ensuring that no academic instruction or formal school activities occur during time set aside for special religious education. Such activities create conflict of choice for some parents and students attending special religious education”.

“We should devolve responsibility for religious education back to where it belongs: in families and religious institutions.”

Surely it is the obligation of public schools to be educating our children and engaging them in a productive activity at every opportunity and that to not do so is a neglect of their duty of care. If the activity cannot be delivered to the whole school, remove it from the core curriculum and conduct it outside of school hours. Or better still, devolve responsibility for religious education back to where it belongs: in families and religious institutions.

It’s time to stop accepting this system and start demanding a considered alternative; this should not be dependent on the ability of the school to coordinate ethics classes, or the availability of volunteer ethics teachers. Ethics should be the default for all children: it is necessary, applicable to kids from all walks of life, socially relevant and key to nurturing and educating upstanding citizens of tomorrow.

It is time for secular families, progressives, and anyone who values the importance of the separation of church and state to demand change in NSW public schools. Fairness in Religion in Schools cites the victory last year in getting SRE removed from the curriculum in Victorian public schools as a big turning point, and it is looking to take the movement to NSW.

Let’s call time on this outdated, divisive element of the curriculum; let’s embrace multiculturalism, critical thinking, debate and inclusivity, for the sake of all of our children.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/amelia-kirby/nsw-public-schools-should-opt-out-of-religion/

Scripture, questions and silence

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes (right) and former minister Adrian Piccoli. Mr Stokes has not responded to questions about his department's responses to a critical review of scripture material.

EDUCATION Minister Rob Stokes has declined to comment after questions about his department’s response to a critical report into scripture material authorised by Sydney Anglican diocese, and used across NSW public schools including in the Hunter region.

Mr Stokes declined to say if the department responded appropriately after a Queensland Department of Education report in August found some “Connect” scripture material, produced by a Sydney diocese-linked evangelical youth group, was consistent with “possible grooming behaviour”.

This was despite the Newcastle Herald advising Mr Stokes’s office that his department had not answered questions about whether it contacted Sydney Anglican diocese, which authorises the material, or raised the issue with the then Education Minister Adrian Piccoli, or issued a directive to NSW principals, who have a duty of care to children in their schools, and after evidence some principals may be unaware scripture material is not approved or vetted by the department.

The department also did not respond to questions about whether it suspended use of the “Connect” material, pending a response from Sydney Anglican diocese or its scripture producer Youthworks, after the Queensland report found the material contained “some content that may encourage undesirable child safe behaviours”.

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said it was “clear the Government is bunkering down and hoping concern about school scripture blows over”, but there were serious concerns about the current system.

They include that scripture providers authorise their own material and provide annual assurances to the department that they “have in place processes that satisfy the requirements for teaching SRE in NSW Government schools”, but where the department and minister have no power to approve material.

“It is clear the Government is bunkering down and hoping concern about school scripture blows over. – NSW Greens justice spokesperson David Shoebridge”

Concerns also include that children are placed in scripture classes as a default position where parents do not state in writing that they do not want their children to attend scripture classes.

“Keeping children safe must be the number one priority in our schools, not pandering to extreme religious views,” Mr Shoebridge said.

He called on Mr Stokes to release the $300,000 NSW report into Special Religious Education and Special Ethics Education which was completed more than 12 months ago but is still to be released to the public.

“The NSW Government has kept the review of scripture classes secret for more than 12 months while pretending to work out what to do with it. This is simply not good enough,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“The NSW Government needs to listen to the justified concerns about these programs, rather than any conservative religious elements within their own cabinet.”

The Queensland Department of Education review in August recommended removing a lesson for children aged 10-12, which suggested scripture teachers “bring in a dead animal to dissect”.

The review found other lessons had the potential to be upsetting, inappropriate or likely to affect the social and emotional wellbeing of children, including a lesson for children aged 7-9 about a man born blind, which asked: “Was it a punishment from God because his parents or someone else had done something wrong?”

The material also included a lesson requiring children aged 7-9 to list ways to “get rid of” a person, after a Bible story about people “getting rid of” Daniel, and a concluding prayer where children “pray that we may not be like the Israelites”.

The review noted “Connect producer”, the Sydney-based Anglican Youthworks, amended lessons about Indigenous children and children with disabilities after community anger that scripture teachers were told “SRE, a barbecue and an afternoon’s sport would be the most pleasurable experience Aboriginal Primary students could imagine”. Scripture teachers were also reminded not to see children with disabilities as “unintelligent”.

In September Fairness in Religions in Schools (FIRIS) wrote to the NSW Department of Education with questions about how it was responding to the Queensland report.

The department replied in December, thanking FIRIS for sending a copy of the Queensland report, noting it took its duty of care to children seriously, but not responding to specific questions and referring the group to its Special Religious Education policies.

FIRIS spokesman Darrin Morgan said the “risk management of the issues identified in the ‘Connect’ review required robust policies and procedures to ensure parents make an informed choice to expose their children to its content’.”

“Over the last three years of correspondence, the Department of Education has made it clear that it is not interested in risk managing Special Religious Education at a systems level. In fact, it seems that it has acted in the interests of SRE pressure and made policies and procedures weaker,” Mr Morgan said.

In response to an earlier Herald article Youthworks said all “inconsistent” lesson material identified in the Queensland review had been amended to the standard required by the Queensland Department of Education.

“The changes required by Education Queensland have also been applied to our material sold in NSW, and our teachers are being trained to use the new material accordingly,” the statement said.

The NSW Department of Education said it was the responsibility of SRE approved providers to authorise scripture material, provide an annual assurance to the department that authorised teachers were only using authorised material, to make information about lesson content accessible on a website and provide information about lessons when requested by parents or principals.

“The department takes its duty of care to students seriously. If an allegation is made against a person providing religious education in a government school, it will be investigated with any reasonable action taken to protect students from any foreseeable harm,” a department spokesperson said.

“Approved providers of SRE submit a written assurance to the department stating that they have in place processes that satisfy the requirements for teaching SRE in NSW Government schools. This includes an assurance that SRE teachers are teaching the curriculum with sensitivity, in an age appropriate manner and that authorised teachers are only using materials and pedagogy authorised by the provider.

“Principals and parents can ask for full details of SRE materials used by providers and providers are expected to provide these details. Any issues regarding refusal to provide materials should be referred to the department.”

http://www.theherald.com.au/story/4476768/scripture-questions-and-silence/?cs=305

Questions for NSW governments on special religious education

EDITORIAL: original link here
20 Feb 2017, 12:30 a.m

THE NSW Education Act of 1990 – which governs the operation of this state’s public schools – says that up to one hour a week can be “be allowed for the religious education of children of any religious persuasion”.

At the same time, however, no child is to be forced to receive general or special religious education. As an alternative, children can be educated in ethics, “as a secular alternative to special religious education”.

Given an Australia built on the supposed separation of church and state, it is in some ways surprising that religious instruction is being offered in public schools at all.

After all, in an age when the traditional view of the family is being put to the test, it is remarkable that one group of people – the religiously inclined – are given such special treatment that their particular view of things is allowed to be thrust on young people in a place of learning, rather than at home, where the parents or guardians of individual children have the right (within legal limits) to instruct them as they see fit.

Supporters of special religious education may well say the same about ethics, and argue that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

But the difference – in the words of ethics provider Primary Ethics – is that secular ethics explores the fundamental issues of life by means of “reasoned argument about values and principles, rather than an appeal to religion or cultural norms”.

Simply put, ethics teaches children to think for themselves, rather than to accept biblical instruction as a basis for values. There may be nothing wrong with religion in itself – although as the Royal Commission and other investigations around the world are showing, there is a long history of wrongdoing and cover-up by the leaders, and the foot soldiers, of many religious institutions.

For this reason alone, it is extraordinary that the secular education system, from the education minister down, seems to have little if any control over what is being taught in religious classes, and who is teaching it.

It might be all very well to say that we know what is being taught: it’s the Bible. But as thousands of years of religious wars have shown us, there are lots of ways to interpret the word of God.

Parents would have a better idea of what was going on in special religion classes if the NSW government released the report it received more than a year ago on the subject. The longer it waits, the worse things look.

ISSUE: 38,471

http://www.theherald.com.au/story/4477805/mixing-the-scriptural-and-secular-in-school/?cs=308

The NSW scripture in schools debate is not about religion, it’s about child protection

Concerns: NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes "does not have the power to control the contents of SRE under the current provisions of the Education Act”.

Joanne McCarthy – http://www.theherald.com.au
2 Feb 2017, 9 a.m.

SCRIPTURE in public schools is not an issue about religious views or what you believe about the historical accuracy of the Bible, which is where a lot of the argument seems to settle these days given the heavy involvement of evangelical Christian churches.

The scripture debate is about a more basic issue than that – child protection.

For more than three years the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has considered how institutions – churches, schools, sporting organisations, welfare providers, government departments, police, the justice system – have responded to child sexual abuse.

What can be said today, without any doubt, is that an institution with responsibility for children that fails to make child protection the top priority, is an institution where children are potentially at risk.

As a principle, child protection includes protecting children from sexual, physical and emotional harm.

What we also know from the royal commission is that institutions need to be crystal clear about lines of responsibility when it comes to the care of children. In too many cases we’ve heard evidence from people unclear about their responsibilities, unaware of rules and regulations, unable to obtain information and ultimately, unresponsive to the risks faced by children in their care.

The operation of scripture in NSW today ticks just about every box on that list, which is why I keep writing about it. What is the point of campaigning for a royal commission when we appear to be deaf, dumb and blind to the fundamental messages it is telling us about keeping children safe?

How many parents know that the scripture material their children are taught is not investigated, vetted or approved by the Department of Education? How many parents know the Minister for Education Rob Stokes “does not have the power to control the contents of Special Religious Education (scripture) under the current provisions of the Education Act”?

Without knowing the above, how can we say parents signing their children’s enrolment forms – and remember these are Department of Education forms giving parents the sense that everything involved is approved/endorsed by the department – have given informed consent?

Why is that an important issue? Because under current arrangements responsibility for what parents have signed their children up for, is up to parents. It is parents’ responsibility to contact the scripture provider to find out what their children will be taught.

The provider – and finding who or what that is, is an exercise in itself – will point you to a website with a curriculum framework. Go to the Youthworks website and see its scripture curriculum framework. Then read Newcastle Herald articles about what is actually taught to children, and decide for yourself whether parents are actually able to make an informed consent.

The duty of care for children in public schools ultimately rests with principals. But as has become clear this week, a disturbing number of principals appear unaware that scripture material is not approved or vetted by the department. And that’s ultimately an issue for the department.

Scripture has been in NSW schools for a long time, but the influence of evangelical Christian groups with a strident reliance on long-ago laws to maintain their “right” to have access to children is, as Anglican priest Rod Bower said, “an echo of a bygone era” that needs to be reconsidered.

It will require legislative change. Ultimately this is a test for the NSW Parliament.

http://www.theherald.com.au/story/4441024/scripture-concern-is-about-protecting-kids/

NSW principals concerned about scripture consent

Challenge: NSW Greens Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge said he will use the courts, if necessary, to compel the NSW Government to release a review of scripture in NSW schools.

Joanne McCarthy – http://www.theherald.com.au
2 Feb 2017, 5 a.m.

A NSW primary school principal removed a Catholic scripture teacher who took a brooch of two little feet into a class to show children “that was the size of an unborn baby’s feet”.

NSW Primary Principals Association president Phil Seymour said it was the only time he was compelled to act against a scripture teacher in 19 years as a principal, and the church responded.

But Mr Seymour and association treasurer Rob Walker expressed concern about whether parents had enough information to give informed consent to their children attending scripture in NSW public schools, and whether all principals knew scripture material was not approved or vetted by the Department of Education.

Mr Seymour said he had not been aware the education minister does not have the power to control scripture material under the Education Act, and the news came as a “surprise”.

Mr Walker, who is the association representative on a NSW Department of Education consultative committee on scripture and ethics, said he would raise the question of whether a disclaimer was needed on enrolment forms with the department.

“Parents may well form the view they’re signing a Department of Education form giving permission for their children to attend scripture and as a consequence their understanding is that the content of the scripture lesson is endorsed, approved and vetted by the department, and that’s not the case,” Mr Walker said.

The disclaimer could take the form of parents acknowledging that in giving permission for children to attend scripture, they were aware the material was approved by the scripture provider and not the department, he said.

In NSW a large percentage of scripture material is provided by the Anglican Diocese of Sydney’s Youthworks, and is based on evangelical Christian teachings including that the Bible, both New and Old Testaments, is historic fact.

The Youthworks Connect scripture material was the subject of a Queensland Department of Education review which raised serious concerns about lessons consistent with “possible grooming behaviour”, and attitudes to people with disabilities, women and Indigenous people.

On Tuesday Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Bishop Bill Wright authorised a statement saying the Connect material was not used in the diocese. Newcastle Anglican Bishop Peter Stuart said he was “troubled” by issues raised in the Queensland report and the material was being reviewed.

In a statement on Thursday NSW Greens Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge repeated his call for scripture in NSW schools to be immediately suspended pending release of the $300,000 review into scripture, which was completed more than 12 months ago.

“The NSW Education Department must release the comprehensive report they have undertaken into special religious education in NSW, following the public release of the comparable report in Queensland,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“The Queensland review shows that the unvetted material used in NSW scripture classes encourages behaviour that put children at risk of sexual abuse, such as having special relationships with adults and keeping secrets.

“Given the ongoing risks to children we will be demanding its public release, through freedom of information, parliament and if necessary the courts. Until it is released, scripture should be suspended.

“It’s time for the NSW Government to listen to the justified concerns about these programs, rather than any conservative religious elements within their own cabinet.

“We are calling on Rob Stokes as the new Education Minister to urgently suspend scripture classes in public schools,” Mr Shoebridge said.

Darrin Morgan from Fairness in Religions in Schools (FIRIS) said the lack of ministerial oversight of scripture material and whether parents had enough information to make informed consent were risk management issues for the Department of Education to consider.

“Over the last three years of correspondence with FIRIS as we’ve raised these issues, the Department of Education has made it clear that it is not interested in risk managing Special Religious Education at a systems level,” Mr Morgan said.

“In fact, it seems that it has acted in the interests of SRE pressure and made policies and procedures weaker.”

In complaints about proselytising (attempting to convert someone) by scripture teachers in NSW schools the department has told FIRIS that principals are responsible for the implementation of the department’s religious policy in schools.

“If a parent/caregiver or community member believes an SRE provider or volunteer is proselytising as part of SRE, ten a complaint should be made to the principal,” the department said in one response.

Mr Morgan accused the department of “dumping responsibility” for dealing with scripture issues on to principals “without providing them with clear and robust procedures to assist them to ensure they fulfil their duty of care responsibilities to all students”.

“The department is also making parents use a reactive and frustrating complaints process,” he said.

In a statement on Monday the department said it took its duty of care to students seriously.

“If an allegation is made against a person providing SRE in a government school, it will be investigated with reasonable action taken to protect students from foreseeable risk of harm,” the department said.

“Parents/caregivers seeking information about lesson content for their child’s SRE class, or prospective SRE class, should contact the relevant provider of SRE.

“Approved providers of SRE submit a written assurance to the department stating that they have in place processes that satisfy the requirements for teaching SRE in NSW Government schools. This includes an assurance that SRE teachers are teaching the curriculum with sensitivity and in an age appropriate manner.”

http://www.theherald.com.au/story/4441340/the-trouble-with-scripture-consent-forms/

Fairness In Religion In Schools (FIRIS) launches information campaign outside Morisset High School today

CAMPAIGN: Paul Foster talks to parents outside the school on Monday. FIRIS says there's "a total lack of oversight" by schools of scripture class content.

David Stewart – http://www.lakesmail.com.au
30 Jan 2017, 12:12 p.m.

Fairness In Religion In Schools (FIRIS) launched an information campaign outside Morisset High School on Monday to inform local parents of what it describes as concerning aspects of scripture classes, now known as Special Religious Education (SRE), in public schools.

FIRIS said it was concerned about the content of some SRE classes but spokesperson Paul Foster said: “FIRIS is not against religion being taught in schools. We think this is vital. We are against churches being in schools. Let qualified NSW teachers teach all of our children.”

FIRIS’s goal is to see religious education removed from public schools and replaced by an alternative program run by the department “that does not divide children along religious lines”.

http://www.lakesmail.com.au/story/4434327/parent-group-campaign-at-morisset-targets-scripture-classes-photos/

Newcastle Anglican and Catholic bishops question basis of Anglican scripture material and Bible as historic fact

Fact: Bishop Peter Stuart says the Bible is a sacred text but "It is not a history text or science book"

Joanne McCarthy – http://www.theherald.com.au/
1 Feb 2017, 6 a.m

SCRIPTURE in NSW public schools is “an echo from a bygone era and now needs to be reconsidered”, said a prominent Newcastle Anglican Diocese priest after calls on Monday for scripture’s immediate suspension.

Father Rod Bower said Anglican Special Religious Education material produced by a Christian evangelical group and authorised by Sydney Anglican Diocese was “of great concern”, a view backed by Newcastle Anglican Bishop Peter Stuart after a review raised serious concerns, including questions about “possible grooming behaviour” linked to some material taught to children.

Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Diocese has also ruled against the Sydney Anglican Diocese material, with Bishop Bill Wright approving a statement on Tuesday saying Maitland-Newcastle “has not endorsed for use the Connect program in our diocese”.

Bishop Stuart said he was “troubled” by matters raised in a Queensland Department of Education review of the scripture material known as Connect, and produced by Sydney Anglican Diocese’s Youthworks. Connect material is taught in scripture classes across NSW, and teaches the Bible as historic fact.

The Bible was a “sacred text” but “not a history text or science book”, said Bishop Stuart after the Queensland review questioned the Connect material’s teaching of the Bible, both New and Old Testaments, as a “factual, historical document” describing “historical and true” events.

In its statement on Tuesday Maitland-Newcastle diocese also challenged the Sydney Anglican Diocese’s authorised scripture position on the Bible, saying: “Catholic tradition does not insist our taking every bit of biblical history or science or cosmology as historical or scientific fact”.

Father Bower said the Connect material was used in most SRE classes and was “of great concern to many mainstream Christians”.

One of the main issues is that most SRE teachers are now drawn from conservative evangelical churches which raises concerns for more secular-minded or spiritually progressive parents, he said.

Father Bower, a prominent refugee advocate and human rights supporter, said a general religious education in schools which equipped students to “navigate their way in an increasingly multi-faith, multi-cultural society” was a “much more appropriate system”.

“Parents who desire for their children to have Special Religious Education should take them to a local place of worship of their choice,” he said.

Bishop Stuart supported the $300,000 review of Special Religious Education and ethics classes in NSW that was finalised 12 months ago.

“It is appropriate for the current forms of religious education to be reviewed. Australian society continues to change and education about ethics, values and beliefs needs to reflect those changes,” he said.

The Queensland Department of Education review of the Connect material revealed scripture teachers were advised to “bring a dead animal to dissect” in an animal sacrifice lesson, that children were encouraged to have secrets with adults, and a man’s blindness was linked to his parents’ sins.

On Monday NSW Greens Justice spokesman David Shoebridge called for the immediate suspension of scripture in schools and release of the long-awaited NSW review. He strongly criticised lessons consistent with “possible grooming behaviour” after more than three years of evidence from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The call came after confirmation NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes and the Department of Education have no power over the content of scripture lessons under the Education Act. It also came after controversial changes to NSW public school enrolment forms in 2015 removing ethics classes as an option, and leaving scripture as the default position in some state primary schools.

The Queensland review in August recommended removing an animal sacrifice lesson for children aged 10-12, which suggested scripture teachers “bring in a dead animal to dissect”. The review found other lessons had the potential to be upsetting, inappropriate or likely to affect the social and emotional wellbeing of children, including a lesson for children aged 7-9 about a man born blind, which asked: “Was it a punishment from God because his parents or someone else had done something wrong?”

The material also included a lesson requiring children aged 7-9 to list ways to “get rid of” a person, after a Bible story about people “getting rid of” Daniel, and a concluding prayer where children “pray that we may not be like the Israelites”.

A group challenging the application of scripture guidelines across three states, Fairness in Religions in School, letterboxed houses near Hunter and Sydney schools on the weekend with information about enrolling children in scripture and ethics classes, after accusing the NSW Department of Education of failing to act on the Queensland and NSW reviews.

“We can’t believe the Department of Education hands over its duty of care to children in state schools to religious groups that are unaccountable, even to the minister, for what they teach,” said FIRIS spokesman Darrin Morgan.

The Queensland review found that while the “vast majority” of Connect material aligned with Department of Education guidelines, it raised concerns about parental consent, the lack of data on scripture numbers and the lack of legislation to allow “centralised regulation” of scripture content.

Mr Shoebridge called on Mr Stokes to release the NSW review and allow debate on whether scripture legislation reflected community views about state education in 2017.

“Parents put an awful lot of trust in schools when they leave their children at the school gate, and that trust is breached by a system that makes attendance at unsupervised and unchecked scripture classes the default position,” Mr Shoebridge said.

Read the original article here.

Education Minister Rob Stokes asked to immediately suspend scripture in NSW schools

Rob Stokes


SCRIPTURE material endorsed by the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and taught to NSW public school children as young as five includes dissecting an animal, encouraging children to have secrets with adults, linking a man’s blindness to his parents’ sins and reminding scripture teachers not to see children with disabilities as “unintelligent”.

There are calls for NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes to immediately suspend scripture in schools, and release a long-awaited NSW review of special religious education (SRE), after a Queensland Department of Education review raised serious concerns about Anglican “Connect” scripture content used in both states, including lessons consistent with “possible grooming behaviour” and advice to scripture teachers about punishing children.

Read the review here

The calls come after confirmation Mr Stokes has no power over the content of scripture lessons under the Education Act, and controversial changes to NSW public school enrolment forms in 2015 removing ethics classes as an option, and leaving scripture as the default position in some state primary schools.

The Queensland review in August recommended removing an animal sacrifice lesson for children aged 10-12, which suggested scripture teachers “bring in a dead animal to dissect”. The review found other lessons had the potential to be upsetting, inappropriate or likely to affect the social and emotional wellbeing of children, including a lesson for children aged 7-9 about a man born blind, which asked: “Was it a punishment from God because his parents or someone else had done something wrong?”

The material also included a lesson requiring children aged 7-9 to list ways to “get rid of” a person, after a Bible story about people “getting rid of” Daniel, and a concluding prayer where children “pray that we may not be like the Israelites”.

The review noted Connect producer, the Sydney-based Anglican Youthworks, amended lessons about Indigenous children and children with disabilities after community anger that scripture teachers were told “SRE, a barbecue and an afternoon’s sport would be the most pleasurable experience Aboriginal Primary students could imagine”. Scripture teachers were also reminded not to see children with disabilities as “unintelligent”.

You know something is wrong in this state when even Queensland is more proactive in releasing information.
– NSW Greens Justice spokesman and barrister David Shoebridge

Youthworks conceded the instructions were “dated and clunky”.

Connect presented the Bible, both New and Old Testaments, as a “factual, historical document”, with scripture teachers reminded to “emphasise that these events are historical and true”, the Queensland review found.

Calls for the immediate suspension of scripture in schools comes after the NSW Department of Education confirmed it had Crown Solicitor’s advice that a NSW education minister “does not have the power to control the contents of SRE under the current provisions of the Education Act”.

A group challenging the application of scripture guidelines across three states, Fairness in Religions in School, letterboxed houses near Hunter and Sydney schools on the weekend with information about enrolling children in scripture and ethics classes, after accusing the NSW Department of Education of failing to act on the Queensland and NSW reviews.

“We can’t believe the Department of Education hands over its duty of care to children in state schools to religious groups that are unaccountable, even to the minister, for what they teach,” said FIRIS spokesman Darrin Morgan.

On January 16 the department rejected a FIRIS freedom of information request for the $300,000 NSW review, which has been with the NSW Government for 12 months, on public interest grounds. While releasing the review would “promote open discussion and informed debate” on special religious education in state schools, the NSW Government was still considering its response and releasing it would have “a negative impact on the department’s functions”, the department said.

The Queensland review found that while the “vast majority” of Connect material aligned with Department of Education guidelines, it raised concerns about parental consent, the lack of data on scripture numbers and the lack of legislation to allow “centralised regulation” of scripture content.

Greens Justice MP David Shoebridge called on new Education Minister Rob Stokes to immediately suspend scripture in schools, release the NSW review and allow debate on whether scripture legislation reflected community views about state education in 2017.

“You know something is wrong in this state when even Queensland is more proactive in releasing information,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“Parents put an awful lot of trust in schools when they leave their children at the school gate, and that trust is breached by a system that makes attendance at unsupervised and unchecked scripture classes the default position.”

Lessons for children about keeping secrets with adults and having “special friendships” with them were particularly concerning because “We know from the Royal Commission that encouraging ‘special friendships’ and secrets with adults endangers children and plays into the hands of predators”, Mr Shoebridge said.

“Keeping children safe must be the number one priority in our schools, not pandering to extreme religious views.”

A spokesman for former Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said the NSW review of SRE was “currently being considered by government”.

A spokesman for Mr Stokes, who was sworn in as minister on Monday afternoon, did not respond to questions. The Anglican Diocese of Sydney did not respond to questions.

In a statement on Monday Youthworks said all “inconsistent” lesson material identified in the Queensland review had been amended to the standard required by Queensland Department of Education.

“The changes required by Education Queensland have also been applied to our material sold in NSW, and our teachers are being trained to use the new material accordingly,” the statement said.

Youthworks did not respond to a question about whether a scripture teacher had ever dissected a dead animal during a lesson at a NSW primary school.

The NSW Department of Education said it was the responsibility of special religious education approved providers to authorise scripture material, provide an annual assurance to the department that authorised teachers were only using authorised material, to make lesson content accessible on a website and provide information about lessons when requested by parents or principals.

“The department takes its duty of care to students seriously. If an allegation is made against a person providing SRE in a government school, it will be investigated with reasonable action taken to protect students from foreseeable risk of harm,” it said.

“Parents/caregivers seeking information about lesson content for their child’s SRE class, or prospective SRE class, should contact the relevant provider of SRE.

“The NSW Department of Education does not keep a central database of what materials are being used at schools by approved providers.”

http://www.theherald.com.au/story/4431811/dead-animal-dissection-and-the-scripture-class/

Editorial Newcastle Herald 30 Jan 2017

Sydney Anglican Diocese authorised scripture material that includes dissecting a dead animal

Sydney Anglican Diocese authorised scripture material that includes dissecting a dead animal

30 Jan 2017, 9 p.m.

NO one can officially say if a scripture teacher has ever walked into a NSW primary school class with a dead animal and proceeded to dissect it.

He or she could have, by following the authorised Sydney Anglican Diocese scripture material known as Connect which includes the dissection of a dead animal in a lesson about animal sacrifice. The lesson fits within a framework that requires scripture teachers to tell children that the Bible – both Old and New Testaments – is a “factual, historical document” and all events within it are “historical and true”.

The Queensland Department of Education reviewed the Connect material in August after complaints from parents to a principal about what their children were being told in scripture classes where Connect material was used. It is favoured by evangelical Christian groups with connections to the Sydney Anglican diocese.

One of the most disturbing parts of the Queensland review is the lack of government knowledge about too much relating to special religious education in schools – how many children are taught, what they’re taught and who’s teaching them. What is also disturbing is the lack of knowledge about scripture demonstrated by principals, parents and teachers. The situation is the same in NSW.

The Queensland review only occurred after the school principal suspended scripture when he inspected the Connect material and discovered it was not approved by the Department of Education, because legislation prevents it.

Again, the situation is the same in NSW, where the NSW Government paid $300,000 for its own review in 2015, only to sit on it for the past year.

There are serious concerns about scripture in NSW schools, not least the NSW Government’s apparent favoured treatment of church groups and unwillingness to allow public debate about whether the long tradition of religious classes in state school class time should end.

In Victoria, in response to community action, scripture is conducted outside school hours. In NSW the government appears to want to make decisions about scripture in secret, and in response to a report paid for by taxpayers, and tell the community later. Mike Baird paid the price for that approach.

It might have taken dead animal dissecting to shine a little light on the subject.

Issue: 38,454.

http://www.theherald.com.au/story/4435240/too-many-unknowns-in-school-scripture/?cs=12