Scripture in schools groups say to critics: 'let's talk'

Supporters of religious lessons share some concerns with P&C

“What do the kids who don’t go to ‘Scripture’ do?” is a question discussed during the recent Parents and Citizens Federation (P&C) annual conference.

Called Special Religious Education (SRE) in NSW and Religious Instruction (RI) in Queensland, “Scripture” is the class time that students in state schools can attend, and which is taught by a large body of volunteers. In Victoria, Special Religious Instruction takes place outside of class time.

“Let’s have a discussion, and see what the issues are…” – Murray Norman

“What do the kids who don’t go to ‘Scripture’ do?” is a fair question that the Christian supporters of the system are happy to explore.

“Let’s have a discussion, and see what the issues are, so we can understand how best to resolve them,” says Murray Norman, Christian SRE Spokesperson.

“If homework, reading and private study aren’t working, let’s have a conversation among the stakeholders who are involved on the ground about what would work better. But let’s not disadvantage students in SRE and Ethics.

“According to [independent consultants] ARTD’s review, 87 per cent of schools have SRE. We want to make sure that all students have good outcomes from the way SRE is run: how do we do what’s best for all students?

“Let’s do the best job we can in the schools where SRE is run.” – Murray Norman

“We want parents to know what happens in SRE in those schools and school years where SRE is run, so they can make an informed decision about SRE.

“Let’s do the best job we can in the schools where SRE is run, and let’s talk about what to do with alternate meaningful activities to make sure that the guidelines are followed.”

The NSW P&C Federation wants kids who are not doing Scripture to be tackling curriculum-based work. “We believe SRE classes should be treated as any other classes: students should be free to enrol in them, and those who don’t should be free to do other productive work,” says P&C Federation President Susie Boyd.

“Instead, we hear innumerable stories from parents about their children being forced to twiddle their thumbs for an hour while SRE classes are running. This amounts to about forty hours of the year where the majority of students are barred from studying, and from an educational standpoint, that simply makes no sense.”

One concern … is that the kids who do Scripture might be disadvantaged.

The Federation passed a motion at its annual conference last month asking the State Government to change its policy to allow schools to schedule curriculum-based work for non-Scripture students.

One concern for people who favour Scripture is that the kids who do it might be disadvantaged.

“The parents of 71 per cent of students are choosing SRE for their child, and a further 25 thousand students are involved in special education in ethics (SEE) classes,” Norman points out.

“These students will either be disadvantaged if they miss out on curriculum work being done by around only 20 per cent of students not in SRE or SEE, or the teachers will have to repeat the work at a later time for them.”

“We would encourage all parents and SRE supporters to engage with their local P&C.” – Murray Norman

High Schools are a major growth area for Scripture. “We’ve got pretty good grassroots data. We support SRE teachers in over 180 high schools across NSW, and we keep track of the rest of the State as much as possible,” says James Flavin, General Manager of Generate Ministries.

“Nearly two thirds of high school students attend SRE when it is available to them in their grade.

“Generate specialises in high schools, where we see a growing focus on self-directed learning. This means that time for individual projects, homework and further study is a great opportunity for students to engage with the curriculum at their own pace.”

Norman says that Christians should take part in school community life.

“We would encourage all parents and SRE supporters to engage with their local P&C so they can serve in their school communities, and so the P&Cs are well-equipped to understand how important SRE is to the members of the school community. ”

In Queensland, concern by Christians about the possibility of a “ban” on students evangelising in the playground has led to positive discussions.

The Queensland Christian Religion Instruction Network (CRI) reports that the Minister for Education Kate Jones has publicly committed the ALP to supporting RI and freedom of religious speech for students in Queensland State school playgrounds. Also positive for CRI have been ongoing discussions with the Education Department concerning precise wording in the revised reviews of scripture providers.

As previously reported in Eternity, Queensland churches and providers of scripture material are working towards a statewide co-operative approach that leaves RI stronger than before.