In February 2021 FIRIS was contacted by members of the Hindu community enquiring about Hindu religious organisations delivering ‘Special’ Religious ‘Education’ (aka SRE / ‘scripture’) in NSW public schools.
What FIRIS decided to do
FIRIS conducted an audit of the websites of schools which reported a Hindu student subpopulation with a religious persuasion of 10% or greater in 2018 data (see  below). The aim of the audit was to
- identify school websites which were and were not implementing the Department’s Special Religious Education Procedures and their supporting documents correctly
- make an appraisal of the degree to which SRE for a significant minority (ie. non-Christian) faith is available or addressed
A copy of the full report can be found here –
What FIRIS found
FIRIS identified that the 2018 student religious persuasion data showed 64 NSW public primary and 17 public secondary schools reported a student subpopulation with a Hindu religious persuasion of 10% or more.
All of those 64 primary schools audited this year, ie. 2021, had religious organisations delivering SRE in 2021, including 44 delivering Hindu SRE. 15 of the 17 secondary schools audited this year had religious organisations delivering SRE in 2021, including four delivering Hindu SRE.
In June 2021, only 14 of the 64 primary schools audited (22%) and only three of the 15 secondary schools audited (20%) met all of the minimum requirements set by the NSW Department of Education.
The number of students identified as belonging to minority religions in 2018 who did not have access to SRE at the schools audited in 2021 ranged from 1.5% to 45% in primary schools and 8% to 71% in secondary schools.
Using the 2018 student religious persuasion data for these 81 schools as a guide, the number of students who have their formal curriculum learning suspended in 2021 while other students take part in SRE of their religious persuasion or in SEE ranged from 13% to 74% in primary schools and from 19% to 92% in secondary schools.
General issues including –
- Schools listing SRE providers not found on the Department’s list of approved SRE and SEE providers,
- SRE and SEE Participation Letters failing to identify the SRE providers active in the school
- Evidence indicating incorrect implementation of the SRE and SEE enrolment process, increasing the likelihood of students being placed in SRE without express written consent from parents and carers,
- Schools unwilling to respond to correspondence from FIRIS pointing out issues of non-compliance.
What FIRIS has concluded
The misidentification of ‘approved’ SRE providers indicates that some schools’ SRE coordinators are not accessing the Department’s list of approved SRE providers to verify whether religious organisations seeking to provide SRE in NSW public school students are approved to do so (thereby increasing the risk of unauthorised personnel gaining access to NSW public school students)
Low rates of compliance of schools with the Department’s SRE Procedures (and their supporting documents) which say school websites are to provide certain information about SRE, SEE and ‘alternative meaningful activities’, again indicating that many principals and/or their delegates are not consulting and/or are not familiar with the SRE Procedures and their supporting documents.
Description of the full SRE enrolment process is unnecessarily and confusingly spread out across too many documents and only fully described in documents supplementary to and ‘supporting’ the SRE Procedures and these documents need to be streamlined. This poor organisation of information both makes it more likely and explains why many schools do not follow the correct enrolment processes.
There is a reasonable likelihood in too many schools that students are being placed in SRE and SEE without written and express consent from parents and carers.
What FIRIS would like the NSW Department of Education to do
- Amend the Special Religious Education Procedures and/or its supporting documents to include more specific instructions on what is to be included on school’s websites and ‘SRE and SEE Participation Letters’, including the following directions – SRE and SEE providers are to be listed on the school website and in the ‘SRE and SEE Participation Letter’ using their names as found on the Department’s list of approved SRE providers.
- Amend the Special Religious Education Procedures to include the following statement – Only students with written and express consent from parents and carers on file can be enrolled in SRE or SEE, and that, in the absence of such consent, students are provided with ‘alternative meaningful activities’.
 The last student religious persuasion data provided by the Department of Education is for the 2018 school year. That data identified 449 schools in which at least five students had their religion declared as ‘Hindu’ in school records.
See https://data.cese.nsw.gov.au/data/dataset/student-religious-persuasion-in-nsw-government-schools (accessed 27.06.2021)
FIRIS does not think this data has been collected since 2018 due to the removal of the SRE / religion question from the enrolment form in 2019 (one year transition period) and the subsequent transition to the SRE and SEE Participation Letter in 2020.