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.