A CHRISTIAN group whose values include "entrepreneurial, servant-hearted leadership" has gained exclusive access to hundreds of Hunter high school students, and forced hundreds of others to lose many hours of teaching time.
The recently "rebranded" Generate Ministries, formerly known as Genr8 Ministries, has denied that students at nine Hunter high schools are taught its views against homosexuality, or its "repugnance" of same-sex marriage, during scripture classes in school time of up to one hour per week.
But critics say the group is taking advantage of complex and opaque NSW Department of Education scripture implementation procedures to spread fundamentalist Christian views in Hunter state schools, while parents remain largely unaware children are being taught possibly extreme beliefs based on the Old Testament.
Department of Education figures released last week show significant differences, and possible breaches, in the way department scripture procedures are applied at the nine Hunter high schools where children receive religious instruction from Generate-backed scripture boards.
The figures also expose the forced loss of school teaching time for hundreds of students not receiving scripture.
Only 13 year 7 students out of Newcastle High School's 986 students attend scripture backed by Generate Ministries each week, but at least 100 year 7 students are unable to be taught during that time because of Department of Education scripture implementation procedures. No other denomination is taught at the school.
Early this year the high school was required to revise advice to years 7 and 8 students, after a complaint (not from a parent) that it breached department guidelines by sending letters saying it supported "Christian principles" scripture to all parents, including those who said they wanted their children to "opt out" of scripture.
Newcastle High School principal Mark Hewitt said the school had "received no parental complaints about the delivery" of scripture in the past seven years.
Critics of scripture in NSW public schools, including academic Dr Cathy Byrne, NSW Greens MP and education spokesman Dr John Kaye, and Human Rights Advocacy Australia spokesman Darrin Morgan, say figures from some of the other nine high schools linked to Generate raise concerns about whether parents were advised of their right, under NSW Department of Education scripture guidelines, to have their children opt out of scripture.
The schools include Tomaree High School, where all 200 year 7 and 8 students attend a 30-minute Generate Ministries-backed scripture lesson each week, in school hours.
The "large majority" of Muswellbrook High School's 240 year 7, 8 and 9 students attend a 50-minute Generate-backed scripture class each fortnight, while the "large majority" of year 7 students at Singleton, Swansea, Mount View and Dungog high schools also attend Generate-backed scripture lessons of one school period per week.
Students opting out of scripture are prohibited from attending teaching classes during that time, under NSW Department of Education scripture guidelines stating that "no academic instruction or formal school activities" can occur for non-scripture students.
The rule leaves 116 Morisset High School year 7 students unable to attend a teaching class for one period a week while 40 students attend a Generate-backed scripture class, and the majority of Kurri Kurri High School's year 7 class are in the same situation while 30 students attend scripture.
Dr Kaye said the Hunter figures provided further proof that "we need to have another look at the scripture in state schools situation, to make sure that schools are not pushing students to go into it".
"Church groups should not be given unfettered access to students in public schools," Dr Kaye said.
Dr Cathy Byrne, a Southern Cross University academic specialising in the sociology of religion, said the involvement of Generate Ministries in Hunter schools was a concern, particularly if parents believed their children would be learning about a range of beliefs and perspectives.
Dr Byrne accused Generate Ministries of providing "highly divisive" information to children that included sexist and homophobic views, and teaching that takes the Old Testament literally.
Generate Ministries chief executive Peter Robinson rejected the labels "fundamentalist" and "evangelist" to describe his organisation, whose website list of values includes "courageous, entrepreneurial, servant-hearted leadership".
Generate "reads the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus Christ", he said.