NSW ethics trial puts SRE under threat
Paul Worthington – CCD Director
Catholic Outlook, June 2010
Special Religious Education (SRE), or Scripture in state schools, is facing a challenging time in NSW. During Term 2 this year, a trial of ethics classes was conducted in 10 government schools. These classes were run in competition with Scripture classes.
Before the start of the trial, religious leaders were told that ethics classes would only be offered to students who were not attending Scripture classes.
However, this guarantee was breached and all students were invited to participate, including those who were previously in Scripture classes.
The Government has apologised for this error, but the damage has been significant.
The trial is a clear breach of legislation and the Department of Education and Training’s own policies regarding SRE, which state that no course, including ethics or civics-style courses, should run during time set aside for SRE.
The trigger for this issue has been a lack of supervision and engagement in appropriate activities for students whose parents have ‘opted out’ of SRE.
This is a school organisational problem. Many schools have had very successful and meaningful arrangements in place, which have fulfilled the letter of the guidelines that nothing must be put in direct opposition to the provision of SRE for a period of up to one hour in state schools.
As Catholic Scripture teachers, we would have no objection to the provision of ethics within the provision of periods in state schools that should be made available under General Religious Education (GRE).
GRE would be available to all students and it may include a study of world religions and the nine common values espoused by the Federal Government.
All students should be available for these classes, although parents will have the right to withdraw their students from GRE.
The ethics trial has been a response by the St James Ethics group in Sydney to support the request of a group within the Parents and Citizens Organisation.
School communities and their teachers have felt affronted by the inference that they do not teach ethics across the curriculi of the school. All schools (government, non-government and independent) would argue strongly that teaching values is ingrained within their courses. SRE further expounds the ethics by its inbuilt provision within the faith professed.
Petition reinforces the wishes of all faiths
Catholic parishes along with all Christian Churches and the major faiths have petitioned members of the NSW Parliament to express their disappointment at the lack of clarity in the process of the trial.
The petition has also reinforced the wishes of all faiths for the sustainability of the great opportunity for the part of Scripture in state schools and the desire for a more creditable General Religious Education (GRE) course for all students.
It is hoped that at the end of the trial and following an independent assessment of the results, wise heads from all political domains will see the unique opportunity NSW can offer every student – a well-structured GRE course and provision for Christian and other faiths to supplement and nourish the faith of families through SRE.
On 27 September this year, the Catholic Education Commission of NSW, the Catholic Education Offices of NSW, and representatives of the Confraternities of Christian Doctrine will hold a forum to further the actions of support for Catholic students in Catholic education and state school ministries.
The forum will be part of the Current Practices in Religious Education Classes in NSW Catholic and State Schools Project, which has been approved by the NSW Catholic Bishops.
Involved in the discussions will be representatives of the bishops, Executive Directors of Education, CCD Directors, heads of Religious Education, RE Co-ordinators/teachers in Catholic schools, SRE co-ordinators/teachers in government schools; representatives of Congregational schools participating in SRE projects/classes, parish priests and parents.
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