Some Sydney public school principals are pushing to scrap Special Religious Education (SRE) classes from government high schools as new figures reveal as few as 5% of students at some Sydney high schools are attending scripture lessons.  The NSW Department of Education does not keep centralised data on SRE enrolments, so Fairness in Religions in School (FIRIS) sought enrolment figures at 25 schools across Sydney under Freedom of Information laws.  In some Sydney high schools, as few as 5 per cent of students have enrolled in Special Religious Education.

That snapshot showed enrolments varied, but fewer than one-third of the schools had more than 33 per cent of eligible students enrolled.

The Secondary Principals Council (SPC) has called for SRE to be dropped from high schools, saying the time should be used for teaching and learning, and the NSW Teachers Federation has also previously urged an end to mandatory religious education.  Just 16 students, or 5 per cent of those eligible, signed up to any form of SRE at Arthur Phillip High in Parramatta this year, while only 6 per cent of students at Sydney Secondary College Leichhardt Campus attended SRE classes.

At Marrickville High school, 10% of students are enrolled in SRE, a figure similar to Willoughby Girls High (10%), Sydney Secondary College Balmain (8%) and Burwood Girls’ High (11%).  The schools with high rates of SRE attendance included Rose Bay Secondary College, where 50% of students are enrolled in some form of religious instruction; Castle Hill High, with 84%; and Fairfield High, with 71% enrolled.  The figures showed many students who identified as religious are still opting out of SRE; almost three-quarters of students at Cherrybrook Technology High identify with a religion, but only 35% are enrolled in SRE.  At The Ponds High School, two-thirds of students say they identify with some kind of religion, but only 21% signed up to SRE.

When students do not participate in SRE lessons, which involve between 30 and 60 minutes per week, they do “alternative meaningful activities” such as homework or reading, but are not allowed to learn the curriculum.  Ethics is not offered in NSW high schools.  SPC president Chris Presland said high participation in SRE was the exception rather than the rule.  “Those lower figures would be the norm for most secondary schools,” he said. “We believe public schools should be free and secular.  We see religious education as a parental responsibility not a school responsibility.”

But a spokesman for Christian SRE, Murray Norman, said some schools reported an overwhelming response to SRE, while others had a lower response. “That’s quite normal, just as some schools have a high percentage enjoying sport and others don’t,” he said.  “In some schools close to 100 per cent of students attend SRE classes because their parents have exercised their right to choose a values-based education for their child at that school.”  Religious Instruction is also coming under pressure in Queensland, where calls to dump it are growing after figures revealed that just a quarter of public school parents wanted their children enrolled in it this year.

But NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell reaffirmed the government’s commitment to the existing system, saying it allows parents to decide whether to enrol their child.  “Last year, the NSW Government changed the enrolment procedure for SRE, making it clearer to parents and carers what SRE and SEE (Special Education in Ethics) options are available at their child’s school,” she said.  “All SRE and SEE options are opt-in.  Religious education classes have been offered in public schools since 1848. Every NSW Government has supported this approach since then.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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