SRE classes at 'least religious schools' are doing better than you think

Student numbers fly in the face of statistics about parents’ belief

The tiny Yeo Park Infants school in the Inner West suburbs of Sydney has been branded one of Australia’s “least religious schools”. But Special Religious Education teacher Jane Dawson says her experience in the classroom at Yeo Park goes against such a label.

“It struck me as being wrong because I know the numbers that I have in my class and I know the total numbers of children in the school,” explains Jane about the Sydney Morning Herald report that stated 87 per cent of Yeo Park’s students do not list any religion on their enrolment form.

“Do parents want SRE and are they putting their kids in SRE? Yes, they are.” – Jane Dawson

Jane does not claim that the 87 per cent figure is incorrect, but she believes the statistic was presented in a “misleading way”, to suggest parents of students at the small K-2 school don’t want SRE. But Jane tells Eternity that every Tuesday, she teaches nine children in a Protestant SRE class. She understands that her Catholic SRE colleague has five students per week, the Bahá’í SRE class has four and 15 attend the Buddhist class. In total, 33 students attend SRE classes, out of a student population around 70 (according to MySchool figures from 2016).

“I think people need to realise that the Sydney Morning Herald hasn’t asked the right question. The question that needs to be asked is: do parents want SRE and are they putting their kids in SRE? For Yeo Park, the answer is ‘Yes, they are.'”

Since the SMH revealed statistics about public school enrolment forms and religion, MPs and parents in Sydney’s Inner West suburbs have called for SRE to be removed from public schools in NSW. But during the four years Jane has voluntarily taught SRE at Yeo Park Infants, she has seen students return each year to her class. Most do not come from households which identify as being Christian or regularly attend church.

“The school is glad to have us there and, while I can do it, I will.” – Jane Dawson

“Even if parents do say they are of ‘no religion’, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want their children to learn about one of the faiths.” And Jane continues to want to help Yeo Park students learn more about Christianity, particularly who is at the heart of it.

“The school is glad to have us there and, while I can do it, I will. I think the Lord wants us there,” says Jane.

“Why wouldn’t you want to learn about the most important book in the world and the most important person? Whether you look at Jesus being an historical figure or your own personal Lord and saviour, he is a fascinating person to find out about.”