The NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, has lifted the ban imposed by his own Department of Education and Communities (DEC) on two Christian books that were part of the Special Religious Education curriculum, after a meeting with the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, last Friday.
“I wish to confirm that there is no ban in place on these books and I have requested the DEC to inform the Directors Public Schools accordingly,” he writes in a letter to Dr Davies, which has been released today by Christian Education Publications.
The decision is a slap in the face for the DEC, which issued a memorandum to school principals on 6 May banning the use of You: An Introduction by Michael Jensen and A Sneaking Suspicion by John Dickson as part of the Sydney Anglican high school curriculum.
A third text banned in the departmental directive, Teen Sex by the Book by Patricia Weerakoon, remains off limits for the SRE curriculum. The Minister thanks Dr Davies for confirming that this book “has never been part of the SRE curriculum and is not authorised by the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Sydney for use in government schools”.
The Minister continues: “The DEC has advised this book has been used in a small number of schools outside of Sydney, contrary to the authorised curriculum, and therefore it should never have been used in SRE in government schools. I thank you for your support in reminding Anglican SRE providers in the Diocese of Sydney not to use this book or any other material which is not part of the Sydney Anglican SRE curriculum as published on your website.”
And in a welcome vote of confidence in the continuing role of SRE in NSW government schools, Mr Piccoli declares: “The NSW Government is supportive of and committed to SRE, as is the Anglican Church, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with you on delivering best practice SRE.”
The decision was hailed as a big win by Christian Education Publications, which publishes the books and materials for SRE.
“We’re very delighted to hear the Minister of Education lift the ban on our publications,” said Marshall Ballantine-Jones, Managing Director, CEP.
“His positive affirmation of the importance of SRE gives us confidence in the ongoing educational role SRE has for the people of NSW. CEP remains committed to working with the DEC to ensure our curriculum delivers sensitive and age-appropriate content according to best practice.”
It is understood that the concerns raised by the DEC related to best practice issues rather than ethical or doctrinal objections, including the sensitive treatment of traumatic subjects such as death.
“As we discussed, the original memorandum was issued by the DEC on advice that there was a potential risk to students in the delivery of this material, if not taught sensitively and in an age appropriate manner,” Mr Piccoli writes.
“I was pleased to hear of your reassurance that sensitive, age appropriate delivery of SRE is an integral part of the training of SRE teachers in the Diocese of Sydney.
“On that basis I am pleased that agreement has been reached that the Anglican Church will continue to work closely with DEC to relieve any concerns associated with the delivery of SRE, given the supreme importance both the NSW Government and the Anglican Church place on protecting the welfare of children.”
The letter also expresses regret that the DEC had not consulted with the Anglican Church before issuing the memorandum and says the department has agreed to consult SRE providers if it has any concerns in future.