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How is it possible that these Department of Education leaders get so much so wrong about SRE?

On Wednesday 3 March 2021 Greens MP David Shoebridge asked some pertinent and incisive questions about SRE during a NSW Parliament Budget Estimates Committee meeting (see below and pages 47-49 of the corrected transcript via Budget Estimates (nsw.gov.au))

The players

Sarah Mitchell, Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning

Georgina Harrisson, Group Deputy Secretary, School Improvement and Education Reform Group,
Department of Education

Murat Dizdar, Deputy Secretary, School Performance South, Department of Education

Mark Scott, Secretary, Department of Education

Mark Latham, Chair of Portfolio Committee No. 3 – Education

David Shoebridge, Member of the NSW Legislative Council, Greens NSW spokesperson for education

The transcript

Mr David Shoebridge: Minister, is there a vetting process to ensure that extremist views are not communicated to schoolkids through special religious education [SRE]?

The Hon. Sarah Mitchell: I will ask Ms Harrisson to comment on that process.

Mr David Shoebridge: Screening processes.

Ms Harrisson: Firstly, I would say that the ‘contentious issues’ policy (sic; see Issue 1 below) covers all the activity in our schools including SRE. Yes, we have a process by which we determine whether or not SRE providers are allowed to operate in our schools.

Mr David Shoebridge: How did Vishva Hindu Parishad, which is a right-wing Hindu organisation that is considered a military extremist religious organisation by the CIA, find themselves in New South Wales public schools?

Ms Harrisson: I am not aware of that provider but I am very happy to find that information out for you, see what we have and provide it on notice.

Mr David Shoebridge: Minister, what response do you have to the fact that this extremist right-wing organisation, listed as such by the CIA in their world handbook, is currently providing SRE courses in Toongabbie Public School and William Dean Public School?

The Hon. Sarah Mitchell: As Ms Harrisson said, we have taken that question on notice in terms of the specifics of that particular service provider. It is not one that I am familiar with either and I would like to check the validity of that and come back to the Committee, if that is okay.

Mr David Shoebridge: Given the concern about attacks from extremist right-wing elements in the Hindu community on members of the Sikh community and other minorities in western Sydney, will you treat this as a matter of urgency?

The Hon. Sarah Mitchell: Absolutely. We have said we would take that on notice and get advice in relation to it. I am very happy to come back to the Committee in due course and to yourself as soon as I can access that information.

Mr David Shoebridge: Alright. Is there anybody vetting what SRE providers are actually saying to schoolkids at Toongabbie Public School and William Dean Public School? Is anyone checking whether or not extremist, hate-filled material is part of the course?

Ms Harrisson: I think Mr Dizdar might be able to give you some practical examples of how SRE operates in those matters in our schools. Teachers are present in those classes (see Issue 2 below). Murat, would you like to provide some information on how SRE classes operate in our public schools?

Mr David Shoebridge: What monitoring is available?

Mr Dizdar: Mr Shoebridge, I think we have taken the specifics on notice and hopefully we can get that detail to you. As you are aware, in normal operation we have to provide no less than 30 minutes and up to an hour of SRE opportunity for our students. Families have the opportunity for their children to take part in that. We do require our principals to oversee that program, as Ms Harrisson indicated. It is not an unsupervised activity (see Issue 2 below). There is often an SRE coordinator or a staff member in charge so that we can make sure that it is meeting all necessary requirements.

Mr David Shoebridge: Are you saying that there is always a staff member sitting in every SRE class? Are you saying that is the policy?

< . . omitted some . . >

Mr Dizdar: What I was saying is that there is a supervisory requirement from the principal or a staff member, depending on the school (see Issue 2 below). We are not prescriptive about what that looks like. We leave it to the principal to determine what it might look like for large schools or small schools. In the school I led when I was a principal here in New South Wales, for example, I had one of my languages teachers who had room in their timetable to be able to oversee the SRE provision in the school.

Mr David Shoebridge: Perhaps you can provide on notice whether or not there was any of that oversight of the SRE that was being “taught”, if I could put that in inverted commas, by Vishva Hindu Parishad in those two public schools in western Sydney.

Mr Dizdar: Let us definitely take that on notice. I wanted to also add that we have expert personnel support in the State office that principals can also contact for advice around SRE.

Mr David Shoebridge: Then how on earth is this organisation allowed to teach SRE in public schools? How did that happen?

The Hon. Sarah Mitchell: As I said, Mr Shoebridge, we will take the specifics of that particular provider and those details on notice and come back to you as soon as we can with an update.

< . . omitted some . . >

Ms Harrisson: Specifically in relation to special religious education, our providers have to provide an annual assurance declaring that they will provide the authorised and age-appropriate curriculum, scope and sequence. It is the responsibility of the approved provider to ensure that its SRE provision and its teachers are teaching the curriculum with appropriate sensitivity and in an age-appropriate manner. Approved providers are required to provide online access to their curriculum, scope and sequence and ensure that the curriculum is delivered appropriately. They are required to give the content of those lessons to any parents or caregivers who request it.

The Chair [Mr Latham]: Sure, but like with the professional development, isn’t the issue here that those groups had accreditation and assurances given but nobody really knew what they went off and did? The Teachers Federation ran courses on becoming a union organiser and on gender fluidity, which was way outside the scope of what they had given the assurance about. Do we not need a checking loop here—feedback and evaluations—to make sure that what they have given the assurance on is actually being fulfilled and that none of these problems, the one I have raised or the one Mr Shoebridge has raised, can occur unnoticed by the system?

Ms Harrisson: As you commented on earlier, Chair, we are going through that very process for a number of the providers of wellbeing services and behaviour support into our schools. We will be looking to do that for more of the services provided into schools over time.

The Chair [Mr Latham]: Okay, that is good to hear.

Mr Scott: And we are doing systematic tracking of feedback on the professional development that has been provided.

The Chair [Mr Latham]: I was not asking about that, Mr Scott. We will leave it in Georgina’s capable hands, then, to sort this system out and get best practice and assurances fulfilled in the system.

The incompetence

Issue 1. The Controversial Issues in Schools Policy and Procedures

In her first response to Mr Shoebridge above, FIRIS presumes that Ms Harrisson’s reference to the ‘contentious issues policy’ is referring to the Department’s Controversial Issues in Schools Policy (CIS Pol) and its implementation Procedures (CIS Pro), both of which do not apply to SRE. The Policy and Procedures only apply to the activity of SRE personnel and providers outside of the time allocated to SRE in NSW public schools –

This policy applies to visitors and external providers including approved special religious education providers or ethics education providers, conducting activities outside the provisions in the Religious Education Policy and Special Education in Ethics Policy.. (CIS Pol, section 2.2)

Religious Education and Ethics providers conducting activities outside the specific activities listed in the
Religious Education policy and Special Education in Ethics policy are subject to the provisions of this
policy and procedures.
(CIS Pro, section 2.4)

FIRIS is concerned that a person in Ms Harrisson’s position is not aware of the Crown Solicitor’s advice to the NSW Minister for Education that the Minister “does not have the power to control the content of SRE under the current provisions of the Education Act” (see first letter below) or the position of the Department’s that the Education Act does not give either the Minister or the Department control over who is authorised to teach SRE or the content of the religious instruction provided (see second letter below).

Based on the evidence above, FIRIS believes that a reasonable member of the NSW public would be justified in regarding MS Harrisson’s reference to the CIS Pol in response to Mr Shoebridge’s question as –

  • at best, evidence of a fundamental lack of knowledge regarding a topic that she should be a subject matter expert of given that the Minister has called upon her to respond to Mr Shoebridge, or –
  • at worst, a deliberately misleading statement intended to disempower Mr Shoebridge so he could not take the Minister to task regarding the provisions for SRE in the Act allowing questionable religious organisations access to NSW public school students.

Issue 2. Statements regarding supervisory requirements of SRE

Besides Ms Harrisson’s seemingly false assertion “that the contentious issues policy covers all the activity in our schools including SRE”, we are concerned about other aspects of the statements Ms Harrison and Mr Didzar made on behalf the Department and, indeed, in the presence of the Departmental Secretary, Mr Mark Scott, and the Minister, Ms Sarah Mitchell.

In response to Mr Shoebridge’s question asking if anybody vets what SRE providers are actually saying to students and if anyone checks whether or not extremist, hate-filled material is part of SRE, Ms Harrisson replies by stating that “teachers are present in those classes” and Mr Dizdar claims that SRE is “not an unsupervised activity” and that “there is a supervisory requirement from the principal or a staff member“?

On the contrary, the Special Religious Education Procedures 2019 state, in section 3.2, –

Class teachers are not required to attend classes in SRE, but may, with the agreement of the teacher of SRE or at the request of the principal, remain in the classroom to assist with and monitor student behaviour. This is at the discretion of the principal and should be negotiated with the SRE provider.

Furthermore, this issue drives home the fact that the CIS Pol and CIS Pro do not apply to SRE. The CIS Pro states –

Visitors and external providers addressing students on controversial issues during school hours should
do so only in circumstances where the issues form part of a school program or activity and are
supervised by a teacher.
(Section 2.4)

In consideration of the above, it is both surprising and noteworthy that senior members of the NSW Department of Education were

  • required to answer these questions in such a Committee Meeting on behalf of – yet in the presence of – the Department Secretary and the Minister, yet
  • still misrepresented key aspects of the Department’s policies and procedures and they did so
    • significantly eg. Ms Harrisson saying, “Teachers are present in those classes”; or
    • obliquely eg. Mr Dizdar saying
      • We do require our principals to oversee that program”;
      • We leave it to the principal to determine what it might look like for large schools or small schools”; and
      • appealing to his past personal yet atypical application in answering a systemic policy issue, ie. “I had one of my languages teachers who had room in their timetable to be able to oversee the SRE provision in the school.”

Issue 3: Approval processes for SRE providers

Furthermore, in relation to Ms Harrisson’s response to Mr Shoebridge’s initial question –

Yes, we have a process by which we determine whether or not SRE providers are allowed to operate in our schools.

FIRIS would like to draw attention to the criteria for the approval of an SRE provider available on the Department’s website.

Following are most of the criteria listed on that NSW Department of Education’s criteria for approval web-page, with the ones which may be pertinent to Vishva Hindu Parishad and other multi-arm organisations in italics and bolded, –

  • Applicant must be a religious persuasion, demonstrated by a statement of beliefs and/or doctrine and:
    • confirmation that the organisation is not subject to the direction or control of any other organisation or body
    • confirmation that the organisation is not a combined body of religious persuasions.
  • Applicant has identifiable leaders and appropriate organisation and governance demonstrated by:
    • a description of the general organisation and conduct of the persuasion’s religious activities
    • a statement regarding leaders and their responsibilities
    • details of the number of members and adherents
    • details of the places at which the organisation conducts its business and services
    • confirmation that the persuasion is independent and not a member of a wider umbrella organisation
      • if it is under another organisation, details of that organisation and the status of it within it
    • a copy of the constitution or organisational documents.

One might wonder if all these criteria have been addressed adequately for Vishva Hindu Parishad and all other SRE providers.

The Vishva Hindu Parishad website ‘about us’ page says

The service divisions of Vishva Hindu Parishad of Australia include Hindu Cultural Heritage Teaching Programme in NSW Public Schools

But VHP’s ‘Special Religious Education’ page says

“...volunteers are involved providing this service through the educational wing of VHP of Aust (NSW).”

So, it would seem to be an organisation with a few divisions or wings, at least, and with possibly more than one having input into or control over its delivery of SRE.

Moreover, it has three similar yet ambiguous ‘world as or is one’ statements on its ‘about us’ page thus:

  1. The Preamble starts: “The founding fathers of this organisation envision the world as one family “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”.
  2. The Objectives section includes, “The Vishva Hindu Parishad of Australia is a community organization and strives for the ideal of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one large family)”, although it goes on to refer to “social cohesion, multiculturalism, harmony, inclusiveness and Pluralism” (sic).
  3. The Statement of Purpose includes: “The Council strives for the ideal of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (world is one family) with a team of dedicated and committed volunteers all over Australia.”

One could be suspicious these are motherhood statements which look innocuous and well-meaning yet have a deeper, aspirational meaning.

The stonewalling playbook of a wilfully negligent Minister for Education??? Part One

In response to FIRIS’ Facebook post exposing the anti-Islamist views of the approved SRE provider Liberty Baptist Church, the NSW Department of Education reported FIRIS to the NSW Police’s Counter Terrorism Unit. In addition to reporting FIRIS, the Department used the issue as an excuse to declare that they will no longer be responding to any future correspondence from FIRIS.

This is not a huge loss for FIRIS.

Over five years of corresponding with the Department and the Minister’s office, FIRIS has experienced bureaucratic stonewalling, maladministration of correspondence, failures to respond in timeframes outlined in their policies and procedures, and has found it necessary to appeal to the NSW Ombudsman on numerous occasions in order to get answers to simple requests. 

However, in response to the Department’s decision, FIRIS has decided to expose the modus operandi of the Department and the NSW Minister for Education’s office by publishing important pieces of correspondence collected over the last five years.

We thought we would begin with Part One of a two part post regarding a complaint to the Minister in November 2019. Part One contains FIRIS’ complaints to the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian (OCG) and the NSW Office of the Advocate for Children and Young People (ACYP) which was included in the complaint to the Minister.

Even before the issue of FIRIS exposing the dangerous hypocrisy of the Department by reporting FIRIS to the Police while continuing to enable Liberty Baptist Church to access NSW public school students, we had concluded that the system of SRE in NSW public schools was, and continues to be, a dysfunctional self-regulating system placing NSW public school children at risk of various forms of harm and abuse. This risk was, and is, further increased by a lack of robust policies and procedures developed by the Department and a reluctance to establish centralised and effective monitoring systems. 

In the face of the Department’s culture of obfuscation, FIRIS believed it necessary to bring these issues to the attention of the OCG and the ACYP.

On 11 June 2019 FIRIS submitted documents to the OCG and the ACYP regarding risks to the safety, health and wellbeing of NSW Government school students due to the provisions for SRE in the NSW Education Act 1990 (the Act).

FIRIS’s complaint to the OCG can be downloaded using the link below.

See below for copies of the supporting attachments to the complaint.

The following risks were identified in the complaints –

1. The failure of the Act to provide the NSW Minister for Education and the NSW Department of Education with the authority to control the content of SRE curricula and to ensure that such content does not pose risks to the health, safety and wellbeing of all students in NSW Government schools. 

See Attachments 1, 2, & 3 and page 10 of the complaint.

2. The lack of competence and/or objectivity and/or willingness of SRE curriculum developers and SRE providers to self-assess the quality and age-appropriateness of their curricula and lesson materials thereby exposing students to the risk of various forms of harm or injury.

See Attachments 4, 5 & 6, Appendix A and pages 10-14 of the complaint.

3. The provisions for SRE in the Act establishing the complete autonomy of each SRE provider to authorise their own curriculum, thereby preventing others, including curriculum publishers, peak bodies and other stakeholders, from stopping them using identified inappropriate materials thereby exposing students to the risk of various forms of harm or injury.

See pages 14-15 of the complaint.

4. The failure of the Act to provide the Minister and the Department with the authority to control the processes used by SRE providers to select and authorise their SRE instructors increasing the chance of inappropriate personnel entering NSW public schools thereby exposing all students in NSW Government schools to risks to their health, safety and wellbeing.

See Attachments 2, 6 & 7 and pages 16-17 of the complaint.

5. The legislative restriction of the Department to a reliance on an ‘annual assurance’ from SRE providers that they have procedures in place to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012 is an inadequate, inappropriate and ineffective risk management strategy which exposes students to an unreasonable and intolerable risk of harm and abuse. 

See Attachment 3 & 11 and pages 20 – 22 of the complaint.

6. The inability of principals of NSW Government schools to ensure they are fulfilling their duty of care by verifying that each SRE instructor is in possession of a Working With Children Check clearance number and their forced reliance on the assurance of SRE providers that child protection legislation is being complied with, places NSW public school students at risk of various forms of abuse, harm and injury. 

See Attachments 8 & 9 and pages 18-19 of the complaint.

7. The Department’s decision to place conditions upon the release of the blank template of the Annual Assurance, in response to an informal request for information, demonstrates its lack of willingness to ‘provide transparency to enable public scrutiny’, a criterion of the public service core value ‘accountability’, thereby exposing students to the risk of being placed in SRE without informed consent from parents and caregivers. 

See Attachments 12, 13 & 14 and pages 22-23 of the complaint.

8. The failure of the Department to direct principals to monitor the delivery of SRE by ensuring that a class teacher is present in every SRE classroom during the time allocated to SRE and provided with the means to monitor the SRE instructor’s adherence to the curriculum approved by the SRE provider exposes students to the risk of various forms of abuse, harm and injury.

See Attachments 10 & 20, and pages 19-20 of the complaint.

9. The lack of centralised proactive measures within the Department to inform principals of NSW Government schools of important amendments to the list of approved SRE providers increases the risk of unauthorised personnel accessing NSW Government school students and exposing those students to risk of harm, injury and abuse. 

See Attachments 15, 16, 17, 18 & 19 and page 24 of the complaint.

10. The failure of the Department to ensure that schools are compliant with the requirements to provide parents and carers with links to access the curriculum scope and sequence documents of SRE providers increases the chance of uninformed decision increasing the risk of students being exposed to risks of harm and injury, particularly psychological injury. 

See pages 25-26 of the complaint.

11. When compared to other departmental policies and procedures, particularly the Controversial Issues in Schools Policy, it is evident that section 32 of the Act requires the Department to transfer its accountability and duty of care responsibilities to SRE providers during the time allocated to SRE in NSW Government schools, thereby placing students at significant risk of harm.

See page 15 of the complaint.

12. Given that the Department does not inform parents and caregivers that it enables religious organisations to distribute information regarding out-of-school extracurricular activities during SRE, the Department exposes students to the risk of various forms of harm arising from participation in such activities, possibly without parent/caregiver permission or knowledge. 

See Attachment 21, Appendix B and pages 26-27 of the complaint.

13. Given that the Department cannot state that all students in a SRE classroom have express consent from their parents/caregivers to be exposed to the lesson materials of an SRE provider and/or the actions of an SRE instructor, some students may have been placed at risk of various forms of harm. 

See Attachment 22 [Appendix 1 & 2] and pages 28-29 of the complaint.

14. Contrary to the Act and the Department’s SRE Procedures it is reported that some children are exposed to SRE curricula, lesson content, activities and the actions of SRE instructors despite the withdrawal of consent of parents and caregivers for their children to participate in SRE, placing them at risk of harm. 

See Attachment 23 and pages 29-30 of the complaint.

15. Miscellaneous issues including inappropriate comments made to students identifying as LGBTIQ+, poor discussion about controversial issues, and exposure to religious groups with views contrary to the values of NSW public education.

See Attachments 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, Appendix A, Appendix C and pages 31, 34-36.

Requests put to the OCG and ACYP

FIRIS asked both the OCG and the ACYP to, amongst other requests, call upon the NSW Minister for Education to immediately –

1. direct all principals of NSW public schools to conduct an audit of student records to ensure that only students with written express consent from parents/caregivers on file are enrolled in SRE. 

2. direct all principals to ensure that all SRE classes are supervised by an on-duty Department of Education employed teacher who is provided with the necessary materials to ensure the curriculum authorised by the SRE provider is being followed by the SRE instructor. 

3. to conduct a review of the information provided by SRE providers in the 2019 Annual Assurance in order to ensure SRE providers have met the Department’s requirements.

In consideration of the fact that the Queensland Department of Education and Training stated regarding the Anglican Diocese of Sydney’s Connect primary school curriculum –

The issues raised through the Connect program review may point to a much broader issue that the current legislation governing RI in state schools does not enable centralised regulation of RI content. Further consideration of the legislation may be warranted to examine whether it meets contemporary community and government expectations. [p. 16] 

FIRIS asked the OCG and ACYP to call upon the Minister to commission a review of the provisions for SRE in the Act to determine whether it meets contemporary community and government expectations, particularly in relation to matters relating to child protection, safety and wellbeing. 

Response from the OCG and ACYP

On 26 June 2019 the OCG sent the response below to FIRIS. Note the need for the OCG Compliance Team to follow up issues regarding the failure of some SRE providers to submit annual assurances (see bottom paragraph on page 1).

On 23 August 2019 the Office of the Advocate for Children and Young People responded with the following letter –

On 26 August 2019, FIRIS responded to the Office of the ACYP –

On 1 October 2019, the Office of the ACYP responded –

Attachments

Below are the supporting documents for FIRIS’ complaints to the Office of the Children’s Guardian and the Office of the Advocate for Children and Young People.

Attachment 1

Note the third paragraph.

Attachment 2

Attachment 3

FIRIS’ Special Religious Education Compliance Report (May 2018) contained the findings of the audits of Annual Assurances submitted in 2017 and 2018.

The audit for 2017 found that 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 AA 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.

The audit for 2018 found that 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 (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.

A copy of the audit report can be downloaded here.

Attachment 4

Attachment 5

Attachment 6

Attachment 7

Attachment 8

Attachment 9

Attachment 10

Note the instructions alongside ‘CHAT’

Attachment 11

Attachment 12

Attachment 13

Attachment 14

Attachment 15

Attachment 16

Attachment 17

Attachment 18

Attachment 19

Attachment 20

Attachment 21

Note last paragraph.

Attachment 22

Attachment 23

Attachment 24

Attachment 25

Attachment 26

Attachment 27

Attachment 28

Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

FIRIS reported to the NSW Police’s Counter Terrorism Unit: or, A Classic Case of Shooting the Messenger.

On 20 August 2019, the Christian lobby group ChristianSRE shared a post claiming that NSW’s 19th Century practice of dividing public school students up according to the religion of their parents for SRE (aka ‘scripture’) “strengthens social cohesion in multicultural Australia.” The post included a photograph of the NSW Minister for Education, Ms Sarah Mitchell, and others promoting the biased and questionable Study of Special Religious Education and its value to contemporary society (see Appendix 1 below)

On 23 October 2019 FIRIS published a post on Facebook countering ChristianSRE’s claims by pointing out how the provisions for SRE in the NSW Education Act 1990 enable religious groups that promote religious intolerance and extremism to gain access to NSW public school students (see Appendix 2 below). The post was accompanied by a meme (see Appendix 3 below) including the following statement from Mr Keith Piper of the approved SRE provider Liberty Baptist Church –

Islamism is a cancer. We must destroy the cancer or the cancer will destroy our society and our freedom…the Quran is the enemy.

Despite FIRIS bringing this statement, as well as other anti-Islamic beliefs, statements and activities of Mr Piper, to the attention of the previous current and NSW Ministers for Education, both Ministers did not revoke their approval of Liberty Baptist Church to deliver SRE in NSW Government schools. (See Appendices 4, 5, 6 & 7)

On the contrary, it seems the NSW Department of Education is more interested in shooting the messenger.

On 29 November 2019, FIRIS was contacted by the NSW Police’s Counter Terrorism Unit in response to a complaint from the NSW Department of Education regarding FIRIS’ post dated 23 October 2019.

The NSW Police alleged that FIRIS’ post could be interpreted as ‘hate-speech’. FIRIS replied by saying that FIRIS did not endorse the statement of Pastor Piper included in the meme and that the intent of the meme was easily identified in the text of the post that went with it. FIRIS said any issues with the statement made in the meme should be raised with Liberty Baptist Church.

On 3 April 2020, in response to a complaint sent to the Secretary of the NSW Department of Education that his staff responsible for SRE were failing to uphold the values of the NSW public service (see Appendix 8), the Director responsible for SRE informed FIRIS that –

Due to the nature of the social media posts by Fairness in Religions in Schools, the Department will not respond to any communication and/or correspondence from Fairness in Religions in Schools.

See Appendix 9 below.

NOTE: Despite FIRIS not deleting the post or the meme until May this year, there was no further contact with the NSW Police or any other Government body, apart from the Department of Education, regarding the meme.

NOTE: Liberty Baptist Church continues to be an approved provider of SRE.

Now what conclusions might we draw from all of this?

FIRIS believes that the failure of both Ministers for Education to revoke their approval for Liberty Baptist Church to deliver SRE seems to demonstrate that either –

  • the previous Minister for Education, Mr Rob Stokes, and the current Minister, Ms Sarah Mitchell, believe the values, views and beliefs of Liberty Baptist Church are in alignment with the values of NSW public education, or
  • the provisions for SRE in the NSW Education Act 1990 render any Minister for Education powerless to prevent religious organisations with values and beliefs contrary to the values of NSW public education from gaining access to NSW public school students.

Whatever the case may be, it is clear that the provisions for SRE in the NSW Education Act 1990 need to be removed.

An education in world religions and beliefs is too important to be handed over to people like Mr Piper.

It is time to take SRE out of NSW public schools and let the professional teachers do what they do well.

Appendix 1

NSW Minister for Education – Ms Sarah Mitchell (third from right)

Appendix 2

Appendix 3

The statement – Islamism is a cancer. We must destroy the cancer or the cancer will destroy our society and our freedom…the Quran is the enemy. – was made by Mr Keith Piper as part of his presentation Lessons from Paris and Brussels Terror Massacre (Lesson 11) published on YouTube on 7 April 2016. The video on YouTube was identified as a recording of Mr Piper’s presentation ‘Incompatibility of Islam & Christian / Western values’ at the Australian Christian Nation Association (ACNA) Forum.

The video has since been removed from YouTube due to its graphic content, however, the video was available on YouTube at the time of writing to Minister Rob Stokes and a link was included in the correspondence (see link in Appendix 5).

You can see Mr Piper making the comment here.

You can read more about Mr Piper’s activities here.

Appendix 4

On 17 July 2017 FIRIS wrote to the then-Minister for Education Mr Rob Stokes to complain about the views and activities of Pastor Keith Piper of Liberty Baptist Church (see link below). The correspondence included a specific reference to Pastor Piper’s statement included in FIRIS’ meme and a link to the source of the statement.

Please note that some screenshots from Pastor Piper’s ‘Incompatibility of Islam & Christian / Western values’ presentation included in this letter to the Minister have been censored due to their graphic and violent content, including beheadings, executions, and female circumcision. However, in order for readers to have an idea of the content of the images used in Pastor Piper’s YouTube video, the censoring is kept to a minimum, and therefore FIRIS still feels that it is necessary to warn readers to exercise their own discretion before viewing page seven (7) of the letter to the Minister.

Appendix 5

On 4 August 2017, a representative of the Department responded on behalf of the Minister saying –

Liberty Baptist Church is an approved provider and has met the current requirements to maintain approval.”

Appendix 6

In response to ChristianSRE’s post dated 20 August 2019 (see Appendix 1 above), FIRIS wrote to the current NSW Minister for Education, Ms Sarah Mitchell, asking her to confirm whether it is appropriate for SRE instructors to discuss mass shootings and suicide bombings in SRE classrooms (see link to letter below).

FIRIS also asked her to confirm (given the nature of SRE, the role of SRE instructors, and the high likelihood of a lack of professional qualifications in counselling and teaching amongst SRE instructors), whether SRE classrooms are ‘safe places’ for students ‘to share their feelings and ideas’ about traumatic events such as the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.

In addition FIRIS brought to Minister Mitchell’s attention the correspondence with the former Minister, Mr Rob Stokes, regarding Liberty Baptist Church (see Appendix 4). FIRIS requested that she reconsider the determination that Liberty Baptist Church should remain as an approved provider of SRE in NSW Government schools.

She chose not to.

Appendix 7

In September 2019, the Director responsible for SRE responded on the Minister’s behalf stating –

As outlined in RM17/2517 [the Department’s letter included Appendix 4], Liberty Baptist Church is an approved provider and has met the current requirements to maintain approval.

Appendix 8

On 10 February 2020 FIRIS wrote to the Secretary of the NSW Department of Education to complain that the Directorate responsible for SRE was failing to ensure that policies and procedures related to SRE were being implemented correctly and that representatives of the Department were failing to uphold the values of the NSW public service as defined in legislation (see link to letter below).

Appendix 9

On 3 April 2020, Mr Garrie Russell, the Relieving Director, Early Learning and Primary Education, replied on behalf of the Secretary –

When it comes to child protection, parents should not trust the word of SRE providers or think that the Department of Education is doing its job.

SRE is a self-regulating system

According to correspondence FIRIS has received from the NSW Department of Education (the Department) (see Appendix 1 below), the Crown Solicitor advised the previous Minister for Education that under the current provisions of the NSW Education Act 1990 (the Act) –

the Minister does not have the power to control the content of SRE’.

FIRIS has also been advised by the Department that the Act does not give it control over the content of SRE either (see Appendix 2 below).

In addition, FIRIS has also been informed by the Department that the Act does not give the Minister or the Department control over who is authorised to deliver religious instruction in SRE (see Appendix 2 below). In accordance with the Act, the Special Religious Education Procedures (the Procedures) state that the recruitment, training and authorisation of personnel to deliver SRE is the responsibility of each individual approved provider [p. 7].

The 2015 Review of SRE and SEE in NSW Government Schools (the 2015 Review) stated that the procedures related to SRE “set out what is essentially a form of self-regulation for the delivery of SRE in government schools” [p. xvi]. Given that it is a self-regulating system, the reviewers believed that SRE providers 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]

The ‘Annual Assurance’

Given that the Minister for Education and the Department have no authority over the content of SRE lessons or the selection and authorisation processes used by SRE providers to choose their personnel, when it comes to monitoring SRE providers, the Department must rely on an ‘annual assurance’ from providers that they are doing the right thing.

This includes relying on the word of SRE providers that they are complying with the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012.

Therefore, the Procedures state that SRE providers must submit to the Department an Annual Assurance form. The Assurance requires SRE providers to declare –

  • that all of their instructors have obtained Working with Children Check (WWCC) clearance numbers and that evidence that they have done so, including verification of clearance, is kept on record.
  • that they have in place a system of authorised initial and ongoing training for their instructors that includes training in classroom management and child protection. The Assurance states that this information is to be published on the providers’ websites.
  • that an outline of the authorised age appropriate curriculum scope and sequence used in schools is provided to the public via a website, and that their instructors are teaching the curriculum with sensitivity and in an age appropriate manner. The Assurance states that curriculum scope and sequences must be provided in sufficient detail for parents/caregivers to understand what is covered in SRE lessons.

SRE providers must also enter on the form –

  • a link to the home page of their website
  • a direct link, or direct link(s), to their page(s) where their curriculum scope and sequence(s), training information and authorisation processes and complaints handling procedures can be found.

If these requirements are not followed, the Department claims – “Approved providers will lose their approved provider status if the responsibilities outlined in the annual assurance are not addressed.” [p. 3]

Therefore, in order to assess the robustness and integrity of the Annual Assurance process as a risk and quality control measure, FIRIS has audited the annual assurance forms of SRE providers submitted for the 2020 school year. Copies of the Assurances were obtained via a request for information in accordance with the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009.

The audit focused on the dates of submission of the Assurances and the information provided in ‘Section 1’ and ‘Section 2’ (as identified by FIRIS below) on page four of the Assurance.

Furthermore, in order to assess the veracity of the information provided in Section 2, FIRIS audited all of the websites of the 100+ approved SRE providers.

Findings

The audit report and its appendices can be found here –

Compliance with submission date

The audit identified that, of the 100 Assurances provided by religious organisations and released to FIRIS by the Department, 18 were not submitted by the due date (28 January 2020). Dates of late submissions ranged from 29 January 2020 to 5 March 2020.

It should be noted that the information provided by the Department’s Information Access Unit did not include the Assurances of four religious organisations included in the list of approved SRE providers dated 12 February 2020. Given that the latest Assurance provided to FIRIS was dated 5 March 2020, FIRIS assumes that these four organisations had not submitted their Assurance by that date.

When comparing these results to the history of amendments to the SRE provider list, FIRIS could not find clear and consistent evidence that the failure of providers to fulfil their responsibility to lodge the Assurance by the due date resulted in the loss of approved provider status.

These findings are consistent with FIRIS’ audits of the 2017 and 2018 annual assurances.

Of the 107 religious organisations included in the Department’s list of approved SRE providers in NSW Government schools on 17 January 2017)

  • 23 failed to submit an Assurance by the due date (27 Jan 2017) and, of these providers, 6 submitted their Assurance more than five months after the due date
  • 3 did not submit an AA for the entire 2017 school year yet did not have their approval revoked by the Minister or the Department

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 (29 January 2018)

Compliance with the provision of information

In the section of the 2020 Assurance requesting the address of an SRE provider’s website home page (Section 1 above)– 

  • 72 providers correctly entered the address of their website home page
  • 25 providers entered an address of an SRE related page elsewhere on their website, rather than their home page address.
  • 3 providers did not enter a webpage address (as required).

However, regardless of what was, or was not, entered in section 1 of the Assurance, of the 97 providers FIRIS could audit completely, only 43 providers entered information in section 2 which enabled access to their curriculum scope and sequences, training and complaints processes.

In consideration of the number of SRE providers who failed to complete the Annual Assurance correctly, and, in consideration of the amendments made to the list of approved providers since 12 February 2020, FIRIS did not find clear and consistent evidence that the Department holds SRE providers accountable for not completing the Assurance correctly or for failing to ensure the information provided demonstrated that they were meeting their obligations as outlined in Assurance and the SRE Procedures.

Comment

With regards to SRE providers, FIRIS believes that the ongoing failure of so many providers to complete the Assurance correctly and to fulfil their obligations outlined in the SRE Procedures demonstrates either a lack of willingness or an inability to follow simple procedures. In either case, it calls into question whether the parents and carers of students in NSW public schools should trust that they are complying with child protection legislation.

The seeming lack of action taken by the NSW Department of Education in response to –

  • failure to submit an Assurance by the due date
  • incorrect completion of the Assurance
  • failure to comply with the simple requirements of the SRE Procedures

– is evidence the annual assurance process is an ineffective and thus inadequate risk management strategy which exposes students to an unreasonable and intolerable risk of abuse and subsequent harm.

FIRIS believes that a review of the provisions for SRE in the NSW Education Act 1990 should be commissioned and undertaken to determine whether those provisions meet contemporary community and government expectations, particularly in relation to matters relating to child wellbeing, protection, and safety.

Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Life Choices Foundation: or, the evangelical wolf in a welfare program’s clothing

In consideration of the concern displayed by many parents into the outing of Hillsong’s brazen declaration that they plan to try and harvest Australian public schools in 2020, it is important that parents, carers and schools are aware of other organisations that are intent on entering our public schools outside of state legislative provisions for religious instruction.

One such organisation is Life Choices Foundation (LCF) active in Australia and New Zealand. Despite its sanitised marketing, make no bones about it, LCF is a Christian organisation. Its founder Andrew ‘Fishtail’ Fisher is also the founder of the Jesus Racing Team.

Key points:

  • Life Choices Foundation (LCF) is a Christian organisation, despite its marketing attempt to not appear as one.
  • Life Choices Foundation (LCF) and the Jesus Racing Team (JRT) are not approved by the NSW Minister for Education to provide SRE in NSW public schools.
  • LCF’s It’s your life, so, make it count program both implicitly and explicitly promotes Christianity. Therefore, both LCF and Jesus Racing can only enter NSW public schools in accordance with the Other Activities of a Religious Nature in Schools Procedure. This means that only students with express consent from parents and carers can take part in LCF’s programs or have contact with the JRT and proselytising is not permitted.
  • Given that LCF and the JRT are not approved SRE providers, the engagement of either organisation by schools must also be carried out in accordance with the Controversial Issues in Schools Policy and its implementation procedures.
  • Parents, carers and others can use the letter at the end of this blog to inform principals and schools of the true intentions of LCF.

Introduction

In NSW, there are three ways LCF and Jesus Racing may try to gain access to public school students –

  1. during the time allocated to SRE
  2. as a ‘curriculum related program’
  3. as a ‘voluntary student activity of a religious nature in schools’. (VSA)

Let’s look at each one in turn.

During SRE

This should not be happening.

Life Choices Foundation and Jesus Racing are not authorised to provide SRE in NSW Government schools. They are not found on the list of approved SRE providers.

Furthermore, FIRIS does not believe it is appropriate for approved SRE providers to delegate their authorisation to provide SRE particularly given their ‘annual assurance’ that they are complying with child protection legislation. However, given the Department of Education’s complicity in throwing open public school gates to religious organisations, the seeming widespread ignorance of policies and procedures relating to SRE and the activities of religious organisations amongst principals, and the eagerness of those religious organisations to exploit those opportunities who knows what is going on.

For example, last year during our audits of schools websites FIRIS found one school referring to Jesus Racing as an approved SRE provider clearly demonstrating the lack of awareness of policies and procedures at the school level. In response to our questions, the Department wrote –

Download (PDF, 216KB)

As a ‘curriculum related program’

In NSW, the Other Activities of a Religious Nature in Schools Procedure state regarding curriculum-related programs with a religious base –

When considering the use of external curriculum-related programs that have been developed by a religious persuasion, principals must ensure that these programs do not implicitly or explicitly promote that persuasion. Programs that promote a particular religious’ persuasion should be considered SRE and are unsuitable for instruction outside the provisions for SRE. [Section 1.2] (emphasis added)

However, principals may be let off the hook here a little because LCF’s website does not mention its promotion of a ‘particular religious persuasion’, or its evangelical intent. The LCF website states –

Presented by Andrew Fisher, to over 250,000 students, and delivered under the Welfare & Wellbeing Curriculum, the Life Choices High School Program challenges teenagers to stop and think through the consequences of some of life’s significant choices, for themselves. It encourages them to choose the path that is ‘right’ for them. The Program provides evidence-based information and real-life stories that inspire young people to stand firm in the face of difficulties and negative influences. [emphasis added]

Parents and carers should note that FIRIS has been unable to identify the ‘Welfare and Wellbeing Curriculum’ LCF is referring to. We can only hope that LCF are not attempting to create a false appearance of legitimacy and authorisation.

The only mention of Jesus found by FIRIS is in a downloadable brochure which mentions that Andrew ‘Fishtail’ Fisher established the Jesus Racing Team. Whether principals can be excused for not reading between the lines FIRIS will leave it up to readers to decide, but a reasonable member of the Australian public might be justified in thinking that this is a devious manoeuvre by LCF to get past principals and to gain access to students where the mask can be removed.

As a ‘voluntary student activity of a religious nature in schools’ (VSA)

The Department’s Other Activities of a Religious Nature in Schools Procedure states clearly that VSA are not part of SRE but may take under the auspices and supervision of the principal. VSA include talks organised by visitors and the ‘distribution of religious materials to students‘. The document goes on to say that principals in their supervision of VSA must ensure that

  • parental permission is obtained
  • appropriate child protection checks and practices in relation to any volunteers coming from outside the school
  • the content of the activities undertaken are monitored
  • an attendance register for all students participating is maintained
  • “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.”

It is in the materials distributed to students that LCF drops its mask and its true intentions are made clear.

FIRIS was recently sent a copy of the booklet accompanying the It’s your life. So, make it count. program handed out to students in a NSW secondary school.

The booklet covers issues such as smoking, drinking, drugs, social media, road safety, relationships, values and beliefs. Over the first 30 pages these issues are discussed with little, to no, mention of religion, beyond the reported importance of ‘cultivating religiousness and spirituality’. There is little mention of a single, specific religious belief apart from the following statements –

Whilst the mention of religion or spirituality can cause conflict, the reality is most of the values that we hold to as a Western Society have come from faith groups, particularly the Christian faith. To ignore the origin is akin to plagiarism. [p. 27]

– and –

The reality is, whether we like it or not teachings that have come predominately from the Christian worldview, whilst seemingly unpopular today, do seem to provide a balance. [p. 28]

However, things begin to change on page 33.

On a page headed ‘values and beliefs’ a list of value statements are provided (see image below) and students are asked if we can “separate them from the person that created them and made them so critical to our society?”, that is, Jesus.

The following pages then go on to explain “what made Jesus so significant and influential”.

 

 

 

A page of ‘helpful links’ includes a photo of the Bible Society sponsored Jesus Racing supercar and a link to the Jesus Racing website and the back cover encourages students to get the booklet signed by Jesus Racing ‘personality’ Andrew ‘Fishtail’ Fisher.

 

 

It is important that principals are aware before engaging Life Choices Foundation that they have specific responsibilities in relation to the discussion of controversial issues in NSW public schools. These are outlined not only in the documents mentioned above, but in the Controversial Issues in Schools Policy and its supporting Procedures (CIS Procedures).

Teachers and other school staff should also be aware that they have responsibilities in accordance with the CIS Policy including viewing presentations and materials used by visitors and external providers prior to the event to determine appropriateness and advising their principal on the content.

So what do the CIS Policy and its Procedures say.

Firstly, the CIS Policy makes it very clear that –

Discussion of controversial issues in schools should allow students to explore a range of viewpoints and not advance the interest of any particular group. [1.3.2]

The CIS Procedures also state clearly that –

Material…that advances the interest of any particular group, political or otherwise, must not be distributed to students. [2]

FIRIS believes that the booklet mentioned above does not present students with a range of viewpoints and that it is a part of program to advance the interest of a particular group.

Furthermore, the CIS Procedures also make it very clear that –

Schools are not places to proselytise, that is, to convert students who are not already members of a particular belief system to become members of that belief system. [1.1]

FIRIS will leave it up to the reader to decide whether the pages shown above constitute ‘proselytising’ or not.

Secondly, the CIS Policy states that –

Where outlined in the procedures, parents and carers should be informed about the participation of their children in delivery of curriculum, events, excursions, school programs or activities addressing controversial issues. [1.3.7]

The CIS Procedures also state that parents/carers must be informed of the proposed content, including materials to be used, and that they must be provided with the opportunity to either consent to or withdraw their child from the presentation, event, program or activity. Schools must also retain all returned consent or withdrawal forms in accordance with the CIS Procedures [2.1]

Section 3 of the CIS Procedures also state –

It is essential that principals maintain communication with parents and carers on teaching and learning programs, visiting speakers, external providers and other school activities, including student organised activities, in which controversial issues may be addressed. Parents and carers need to be advised of the specific details of school activities, programs or events addressing controversial issues and the relevance to the curriculum and school programs and activities. Where advice is appropriate, it must be given prior to the occasion so parents and carers can provide consent or withdraw their child from a particular session(s) on controversial issues. The parental right to withdraw their child must be respected.

Thirdly, with regard to the distribution of materials, principals need to be aware that the CIS Procedures state –

All materials to be referenced or distributed to students that include controversial issues are to be reviewed and approved by the principal in advance…The principal may delegate the task of reviewing the material to an appropriate member of the teaching staff and make a judgment on the basis of the teacher’s feedback. This responsibility cannot be delegated to people from outside the school, including the publishers of material for use in the school or on school excursions. The principal cannot delegate the task of approving materials for distribution. [2.6]

FIRIS sent the following letter and two attachments to all NSW secondary school principals on Tuesday 11 February 2020 –

Download (PDF, 404KB)

Download (PDF, 190KB)

Download (PDF, 1.23MB)

Parents, carers and others in NSW can share this information the P&C Association of their child/ren’s, or local,  school/s and request that the letter is tabled and discussed at the next meeting of the P&C .

Parents and carers in other states where LCF and the JRT are active can adapt the document below and bring the true intentions of the LCF to the attention of the Principal in their child/ren’s, or their local, school.

Download (DOCX, 487KB)

Eyes Wired Shut: or, how to continue ignoring the rights of students and their parents in NSW public schools

It looks like parents/carers of students in NSW public schools are in for another year of principals not doing their homework when it comes to SRE.

An example of a principal who has not brought himself up to speed with the new 2020 enrolment processes for SRE is the principal of Greystanes High School.

The 2020 student handbooks for Years 7-11 contain the following statement –

Here is the letter of complaint (and its four attachments) sent to the principal and the secretary of the school’s Parents and Citizen’s Association today (Monday 3 February 2020).

Download (PDF, 268KB)

Attachment 1

Download (PDF, 132KB)

Attachment 2

Download (PDF, 128KB)

Attachment 3

Download (PDF, 644KB)

Attachment 4

Download (PDF, 58KB)

 

 

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.