School principals are pushing for an urgent review of religious education in NSW public schools, warning scripture classes are disrupting the curriculum and forcing thousands of students to miss out on crucial learning time. Fewer than 15% of pupils at some of Sydney’s public high schools attend Special Religious Education (SRE), according to data obtained under freedom of information laws. The NSW Principals’ Councils, Teachers Federation and P&C Federation are pushing for a review of SRE, which they argue is especially timely given major changes with rollout of the new NSW curriculum. Strict rules prevent students who opt out of religious classes from being able to learn the curriculum or engage in any formal school activities while the lessons are being held.
At Sydney Secondary College Balmain Campus, Cronulla High and Arthur Phillip High, about 13 per cent of eligible students are enrolled in SRE this year. At Camden High, 7 per cent attend. However, at Killara High that figure rises to a third of students; while at Epping Boys, 53 per cent of pupils attend SRE. Rose Bay Secondary College and Marrickville High reported no students attending SRE this year. Secondary Principals’ Council president Craig Petersen said the long-running policy is forcing frustrated principals to make “major timetable adjustments to accommodate for a declining number of students” enrolled in SRE. “It’s leading to wasted time when non-SRE students could be in lessons,” he said.
In a joint letter to NSW Education Minister Prue Car, the state’s Primary and Secondary Principals’ Councils, the NSW Teachers Federation and the P&C Federation have renewed their push for a “long-overdue” independent review of SRE and SEE (Special Education in Ethics). “We are united in the view that minimising interruption of teaching in an overcrowded curriculum is essential,” the letter said. “There has not been a major independent review of SRE since the 1980 Rawlinson report. A review is timely given the significant changes with the rollout of the new curriculum.” With no centralised SRE enrolment figures collected by the department, The media requested participation for 10 schools across the city for 2023.
At Fairfield High, 24 per cent of eligible students take SRE; at Castle Hill High, 29 per cent. At South Sydney High, 10 per cent of eligible pupils are enrolled. The peak groups are urging the government to collect and release SRE enrolment figures, while a new review should scrutinise scheduling, the quality of the classes and the effects of missed teaching time, they said. The Secondary Principals Council and Teachers Federation have long pushed for abolishing SRE from public high schools, advocating for “a free and secular” public education system. But Murray Norman, a spokesperson for religious education advocacy group, Better Balanced Futures, said the growth of Sydney’s Hindu and Islam communities means demand for religious instruction in schools will rise.
“It is critical there is an option for parents to choose for their children to participate in SRE, and to be taught within the education system. The latest census shows a very high level of multiculturalism. It’s important that parents have a choice,” said Norman, who also sits on the department’s SRE and SEE consultative committee. Surinder Jain, director at the Hindu Council of Australia, an SRE provider, said while demand from parents wanting to enrol their children has risen for the classes over the decade, there is a major shortage of volunteer teachers. Religious education classes are opt-in, and the department is in the process of moving enrolment forms online. Parents can choose from available providers when enrolling, and since 2011 ethics has been an alternative in primary years.
About 100 religious groups are approved to teach the classes, the majority Christian, while other providers included are Islamic, Hindu, Sikh, Baha’i, Buddhist and Jewish. SRE usually runs for about 40 minutes each week or fortnight in high schools, and those not attending can do “alternative meaningful activities”, such as reading or revision but no new work. “All peak groups are unified in the view that not interrupting curriculum time is essential and if SRE and SEE is to continue, then the scheduling needs to be reviewed and changed,” the groups wrote. The latest census data shows the proportion of self-identified Christians has dropped below 50 per cent for the first time and a rising number of people are describing themselves as “non-religious”.
“This is not a debate for or against religion,” said Angelo Gavrielatos, president of the Teachers Federation. “It’s about the purpose of schooling to provide education in line with the curriculum. Parents are free to exercise choices in religious education, but that should be outside school hours.” Petersen said that in schools where “SRE is running well, that’s great. But it can create tensions in some of our schools where we are trying to make the provisions, but it’s not a natural fit with how we run the day.” A NSW Education Department spokesperson said: “SRE and SEE are provided through the Education Act 1990. Schools must allow time for SRE and SEE where authorised representatives of approved providers are available.”
Source: Compiled by APN from media reportsPrint This Post
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