The teaching of Special Religious Education in government schools by approved religious providers has been part of our system of education in NSW since 1880. The strength of our system is that the state is clearly not in the business of religion – rather it supports religious practitioners to use their skills in education and recognises the importance of providing a spiritual foundation for our children in the 2015 Wellbeing Framework for schools.
Access to schools is provided in order for approved religious providers to deliver quality educational programs using contemporary teaching methods and suited to the appropriate stage of students’ faith development.
For Christian SRE, that means delivery of well thought-out Bible-based educational programs that help students understand the basics of Christian belief, develop critical thinking skills and explore how a Christian perspective shapes behaviour, relationships, and life.
The place of SRE in NSW government schools is determined and governed by the NSW Education Act, 1990. Under the Act, there is a legislative requirement that
“in every government school, time is to be allowed for the religious education of the children of any religious persuasion”.
The provision of SRE in every school is dependent on parents nominating an SRE class at, or subsequent to, enrolment.
In accordance with the Act and DoE policy, arrangements for Special Religious Education are to be done by negotiation between the principal of the schools and the authorising religious groups who are approved to provide SRE in NSW government schools.
The Act clearly defines the respective responsibilities of the school, religious providers and parents. It emphasises the need to implement SRE in a flexible way based on consultation and cooperation.
Principals must allow time for SRE/SEE where representatives of approved providers are available. On average, not less than 30 minutes and not more than one hour per week should be allocated. The lesson period should be consistent with the age and attention span of the students.
Principals will support SRE/SEE by ensuring that no academic instruction or formal school activities occur during the time set aside for SRE/SEE. Students not attending SRE or SEE should be in a separate space from these classes and be provided with alternative meaningful activities such as reading, private study or completing homework.
We would often talk about (our religious beliefs) with friends from different groups. We would be challenged to consider what is being told in "places of worship" versus our actual encounters of what it means to believe particular things in our schools and in our community ... thus the designated SRE time taught both intrinsic motivation to learn about yourself, and gave voice to students who would want to question the theologies they have grown up with.Matthew