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 –
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.
Note the third paragraph.
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.
Note the instructions alongside ‘CHAT’
Note last paragraph.