Principals don't want religion in public schools ... or do they?

A call to remove Special Religious Education (SRE) from NSW classrooms is at odds with a Department of Education review this year, according to Murray Norman, CEO of Christian SRE. It also directly contradicts the experience of 12,000 volunteer SRE teachers, he says.

“Michael Trist, vice president of NSW Primary Principals’ Association (PPA), was recently quoted as saying Principals want SRE removed from curriculum time,” Norman told Eternity.

“This does not seem to be in keeping with the final report of the 2020 NSW Curriculum Review that made no such recommendation.”

The Daily Telegraph ran an article over the weekend saying that principals did not want SRE to be taught during school hours, based on a PPA position paper.

According to the Tele, in the report principals suggested that Scripture classes be run before or after school, or, if remaining in school hours, teachers should be able to conduct normal lessons at the same time for children who had opted out of SRE classes.

Trist, while stressing he is not “anti-religion”, said in the article: “Everything goes on hold while scripture classes are taught. It takes a big chunk of teaching time, which is otherwise in short supply.”

The Tele is also running a poll asking people to vote on whether Scripture classes should not be held during school hours. (So far, just under half of respondents voted no – meaning they want SRE to remain in class time.)

According to Norman, SRE is a vital part of the curriculum because it “provides a place for young people to discuss values and beliefs.”

He points out that this focus is exactly what the NSW Department of Education identified as being increasingly important in its final report of the 2020 curriculum review.

“The report acknowledged ‘schools’ efforts to address mental health issues, build student resilience, inculcate values and develop character’, even though some see those as outside formal curriculum,” says Norman.

The report goes on to ask the question: “In the twenty-first century, should the curriculum of schools explicitly include and give greater priority to the social, ethical, emotional and physical development and health of every student, and recognise these as school-wide and schooling priorities?”

An independent report into SRE in NSW found SRE brings important psychological benefits to students’ mental health and wellbeing.

Norman also cites an independent report into SRE in NSW schools in 2018, which also upheld the place of SRE in creating a safe space for children and young people to explore deeper questions of faith and belief. This report also found that SRE brings important psychological benefits to students’ mental health and wellbeing, as well as strengthening multiculturalism.

The experience of almost 12,000 volunteer SRE teachers, who are being welcomed back into schools this term by principals and school teachers, also cannot be discounted, says Norman.

“There are over 430,000 students in over 1500 schools across NSW involved in SRE, taught by representatives from over 29 faith groups. Around 70 per cent of primary school students are engaged in SRE and SEE [Special Education in Ethics], and numbers are similar in high schools where SRE is offered (over 30 per cent statewide),” he says.

“During this difficult year, school staff and school principals have done a fantastic job under trying circumstances to educate children and young people and care for them, through both onsite learning and learning from home.

“Term three sees the return of face-to-face teaching for SRE, and the faith communities and their volunteer teachers have been looking forward to the opportunity to reconnect with SRE students and engage with them in the big questions of life.

“Religious education is a normal part of school. Having teachers come in and teach students about hope and about love, especially at the moment, is very important and reassuring for students.”

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