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