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Two days left to have your say for NSW scripture in schools

NEWS | Kaley Payne

Wednesday 29 July 2015

There’s only two days left to contribute to the NSW government review of special religious and ethics classes in schools.

The independent review looking into Special Religious Education (SRE) and Special Ethics Education (SEE) in NSW primary and secondary schools was announced in October last year and began in March.

Parents and carers, SRE and SEE teachers, current and former students and other interested parties are able to contribute their views here, before submissions close this Friday 31 July.

Recommended by a 2012 Parliamentary Inquiry, the review is looking at the nature and extent of special religious and ethics programmes, complaints procedures, training structures, opt out policies and supervision levels for students not attending SRE or ethics classes.

ARDT Consultants, who are conducting the review on behalf of the NSW Government have been clear that the review is not to determine whether SRE or SEE should be offered in schools but rather to inform ongoing developments in each programme.

The review has been welcomed by Christian SRE providers, the majority of which are represented by the Inter-Church Commission on Religious Education in Schools (ICCOREIS).

ICCOREIS chairman Neville Cox said at the time of the review’s announcement, “We are always seeking ways to improve the quality and consistency of what we deliver through our training, curriculum material and best practices.”

Mr Cox said he recognised that faith providers no longer have the monopoly after the introduction of ethics classes as an alternative to SRE in 2011, emphasising the importance for faith-based providers to effectively communicate the benefits of SRE in the education system.

Murray Norman is a spokesperson for ICCOREIS and general manager of Presbyterian Youth, the Presbyterian provider of SRE teachers in NSW. He says it’s particularly important for parents to have their say in the review.

“They give their permission for the children to come along and be taught in those classrooms, so it’s really important for them to tell the reviewers how they feel and what they think about the programme. It’s good to have their feedback so we can refine, improve and develop what we’re providing in classrooms across the state – both in primary and high schools,” said Mr Norman.

Mr Norman said there has been ample opportunity for SRE providers to have input into the review process.

“They’ve been great to work with,” Mr Norman says of ARDT. “We had a process to give them feedback as we went through, they’ve allowed us to have input on the important people they should talk to and advised us on how to let parents and teachers know what’s going on. It’s been a good review with plenty of feedback opportunities.”

The ARDT review is expected to be finalised by the end of December 2015.

Controversy over religion and ethics in public schools have increased over the past year in New South Wales. Just this week, NSW Premier Mike Baird announced a state-wide audit into school prayer groups to ensure they comply with the State’s religious education policy. It follows claims a student from Epping Boys High School (in north west Sydney) was preaching radical views at a lunchtime Muslim prayer session.

In June, concerns were raised over SRE and SEE presence on NSW public school enrolment forms, with SRE providers suggesting that an option for ethics classes should not appear on the enrolment form.

And in May, three Christian books were suspended from use in SRE curriculums by the Department of Education and Communities after suggestions they didn’t meet Departmental policy guidelines. Two books, written by Michael Jensen and John Dickson, were quickly reinstated with an apology from the DEC while a third, written by Christian sexologist Patricia Weerakoon was cleared as never having been part of the curriculum in the first place.

Author of one of the ‘unbanned’ books, John Dickson, posted on Facebook urging residents of New South Wales to contribute to the SRE review before time ran out:

“For me, the arguments AGAINST SRE are mostly bunkum:
(1a) it creates division between students,
(1b) it is about proselytising,
(1c) the idea of ‘secular’ requires the removal of confessional religion from government schools,
(1d) some SRE teachers are nut-jobs,
(1e) kids in non-SRE are somehow missing out on important curriculum time.

“The arguments FOR SRE are overwhelming:
(2a) most SRE teachers/classes are well loved by their schools and students,
(2b) SRE programs are generally professionally designed and authorised,
(2c) SRE is inherently about education not proselytising,
(2d) SRE allows children of the various Faiths to have some of their religious education in the most convenient and comfortable educational setting, i.e., 30mins within the school week,
(2e) SRE allows the vast numbers of children in Christian SRE classes (about 300,000) to learn about the Faith that shaped the Western world in which they live,
(2f) SRE allows children to make up their own minds about the relevance of the Faith tradition in a sympathetic, non-coercive environment,
(2g) give that SRE is simply an option, rather than mandated, it is a genuine expression of the classical idea of ‘secular’ – which envisages that religion will neither be imposed nor excluded from the public square – rather than the idiosyncratic and doctrinaire notion that ‘secular’ means ‘no religion’ in the public square.

“But, hey, make up your own mind, and give the Government your perspective,” says Dickson.

Submissions for the NSW SRE and SEE review close July 31. For more, click here.

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