The peak body representing Special Religious Education (SRE) in NSW schools says opponents of the classes are manipulating recent figures on students’ religious preferences to further an ‘anti-religion agenda’
The Inter-Church Commission on Religious Education in Schools (NSW) Inc (ICCOREIS) said figures showing 40% of parents listing “no religion” on enrolment forms are “irrelevant” because many of those same parents choose SRE after they receive a letter outlining their options.
Last week, new data found that more than 40% of the 795,000 students in NSW's public schools do not list any religion on their enrolment form.
Currently, all schools must allow at least 30 minutes each week for SRE, but the data shows that in more than 50% of schools, most students do not nominate a religion.
Some opponents of SRE argue that aside from preventing non-religious students from engaging in ethics classes or academic activities whilst SRE classes are in progress, the NSW Education department is powerless to intervene.
A spokesman for Fairness In Religion In Schools (FIRIS), said the NSW Education Department had “no control over of the content, how it is presented or who presents” scripture lessons in schools.
“For up to one hour a week, we are effectively handing over our classrooms to churches,” the spokesman said.
However, the ICCOREIS claims that opponents of SRE are “manipulating” figures showing religious affiliation on NSW school enrolment forms to further “anti-religion agenda”.
ICCOREIS spokesperson, Murray Norman, said the Government’s independent review found that in NSW primary schools alone, over 70% of parents elect an SRE option for their children.
“The vast majority of parents want SRE and see the value in their children attending these classes,” Norman said in a statement.
“Unfortunately we have small groups with agendas that will twist the facts to try and deny the majority of parents their right to choose to have their children learn about their nominated faith.”
He said SRE was closely monitored and delivered by approved providers.
The NSW Department of Education’s own framework states that “spiritual wellbeing relates to our sense of meaning and purpose”, and independent reviews show that “SRE contributes to students’ understanding of their cultural heritage and is an avenue for their spiritual care”.
“Across NSW around 87% of schools have SRE due to the high percentage of parents – around 72% in primary school – opting in,” Norman explained.
For students not participating in SRE or ethics, Norman said it is important to note the current implementation procedures – that schools are to provide meaningful activities with appropriate care and supervision.
“These meaningful activities include reading, private study and completing homework,” he said.