NSW P&C Federation asks government what it's got to hide on scripture

THE peak parent organisation for NSW public schools is “mystified” by the NSW Government’s rejection of key recommendations from a $300,000 taxpayer-funded review of scripture in state schools.

The P&C Federation said it was “highly disappointed” the government rejected many worthwhile recommendations of a review it sat on for nearly 18 months, including allowing the majority of NSW high school students to do regular schoolwork while a minority attend scripture during school hours.

The federation also criticised the government for rejecting a recommendation that ethics classes appear as an alternative to scripture on school enrolment forms, after the government controversially changed the forms in 2015 after complaints from religious groups and Upper House Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile.

“The removal of all references to ethics classes on enrolment forms has no practical benefit whatever,” P&C Federation president Susie Boyd said after the Department of Education released the 238-page review last week after more than a year of calls by anti-scripture groups for it to be released to the public.

“On the contrary, withholding information on enrolment forms is to the detriment of public education. It appears to have been done to cater to the purely ideological objections of certain smaller parties, and we continue to be mystified by the government’s refusal to even reconsider this.”

The federation was highly critical of the government’s refusal to let high school students do regular schoolwork during scripture time. The Secondary Principals’ Council was also critical of the government’s refusal, with president Chris Presland saying students were left “twiddling their thumbs” in schools where 10 students attending scripture can prevent 700 or more students from doing work during the scripture period.

“Considering the majority of students are not enrolled in special religious education (scripture), it is entirely reasonable to allow them to spend their time on something productive while SRE classes are in place,” Ms Boyd said.

The government rejected a recommendation by the review that scripture and ethics enrolment numbers across the state should be tracked, saying individual schools kept enrolment numbers and a statewide figure would be a waste of resources.

Tracking enrolment numbers for scripture and ethics is “an ordinary activity of the Department of Education and there is no reason for exceptions to be made for these classes”, Ms Boyd said.

“It raises questions about what the government is concealing.”

The P&C Federation was also disappointed the government will not allow high school principals to opt in to scripture, or include information to parents saying they have the right to withdraw their child from scripture.

“Although it is strictly true that this information is publicly available, it is an effort to track down and it is disappointing the government is declining to be more forthcoming with this information,” Ms Boyd said.

“There is no reason to give scripture classes the degree of privileged treatment that we have seen from the government. We call on the government to be more transparent to parents about what exactly their options are, and to be more forthcoming to the public generally about the provision of these classes.”

The review by an independent consultancy firm found scripture providers did not “consistently produce good quality curricula from an educational perspective”, the system of authorising scripture providers lacked transparency, and some scripture teachers were using authorised, but age-inappropriate materials, while others used non-authorised materials.

The review found the Department of Education and scripture providers did not deal with scripture policy breaches “in any systematic way”, and nearly two-thirds of scripture providers were not complying with a requirement to make scripture curriculum available to the public.

It was unclear how parents whose children attended combined Christian scripture classes would find information about what their children were taught, the review found.

More than half of NSW state school principals who responded to the review had received one or more complaints about scripture in the previous two years, with 58 per cent of complaints about scripture content, 29 per cent about the effect on the child, and 26 per cent about alternative activities for children not attending scripture.