This is an abridged version of Australian News prepared before our editorial staff left for overseas prayer assignments.  The full edition will return on Wednesday 5th June.

The number of NSW public school students who do not identify with a religion surged by 13 per cent in the three years to 2018, making non-believers the fastest-growing group, ahead of Islam and Hinduism.  About 43 per cent of students did not nominate a religion last year, Department of Education figures show.  They come as principal and teacher groups push for mandatory Special Religious Education (SRE) to be scrapped from high school.  The least religious primary schools in Sydney with more than 100 students were Australia Street Infants’, Camdenville Public and Darlington Public.  The most religious were Auburn West, Wylie Park Public and Mount Lewis Infants’.

Among high schools, the least religious schools were Newtown School of Performing Arts, Sydney Secondary College and Marrickville High.  The most religious were Punchbowl Boys, Auburn Girls and Granville Boys.  While the majority of religious students still identified as Christian, that category suffered the biggest decline in numbers, with more than 24,000 fewer students identifying as Anglican, Catholic, Uniting Church or Protestant.  Meanwhile, 3500 more students identified as Muslim, and 3000 more identified as Hindu between 2016 and 2018.  The number of students choosing either no religion or leaving the section blank grew by about 40,000 over the 3 year period.

Primary school students were more likely to have a religion on their enrolment form than high school students.  The NSW Department of Education does not track SRE enrolments, so religious affiliation is the only indicator of the subject’s popularity.  However, even that data will no longer be available from this year due to changes to SRE enrolment procedures.  The new process makes it easier for parents to select non-scripture but means the department no longer collects centralised information on religious affiliation.  Many expect the procedural changes will lead to a fall in SRE enrolments.

Pressure is mounting on SRE in NSW public schools, with the NSW Teachers Federation and the Secondary Principals Council, calling for an end to mandatory SRE.  Chris Presland from the council said removing SRE from secondary schools was a simple way to “free up”  40 minutes a week amid concerns about an over-crowded curriculum.  “We don’t have a problem with religion,” he said.  “If parents want their kids to have religious education that’s fine, but it’s like swimming school.  It’s a parenting responsibility, not an educational responsibility.”

Daniel Guenther from Fairness in Religion in Schools said “Non-scripture students are not allowed to engage in meaningful activity while their peers are in SRE class.  If that many students are sitting idle, and we estimate hundreds of thousands, that’s the most obvious place they should be looking.”  A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said the department did not believe it was the best use of public resources to establish a state-wide system of monitoring attendance.  Christian SRE spokesman Murray Norman said SRE in schools was about giving parents the right to choose what they wanted for their children.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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