THE NSW Department of Education has rejected major recommendations of a $300,000 taxpayer-funded review of scripture in NSW schools, including the need for more information on scripture providers to “identify radical groups or cults”.
The 238-page review, completed in 2015 but not released until Tuesday, 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.
The review, by ARTD Consultants, recommended changing school enrolment forms to allow parents to “opt in” their children to special religious education, after the NSW Department of Education controversially changed enrolment forms in late 2014 so that parents had to opt their children out of scripture.
This followed complaints to the department and the then Education Minister Adrian Piccoli from scripture providers, and public criticism by Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile, after scripture numbers across the state fell when parents had to opt their children in to scripture.
But in its response to the ARTD review the department rejected the “opt in” recommendation, and a separate recommendation that all department special religious education material clearly identified that parents have the right to withdraw their child from scripture.
The department also rejected a recommendation that high school students who do not attend scripture should be allowed to do regular schoolwork, after evidence only 30 per cent of high school students attended scripture.
It rejected a recommendation to monitor and make public accurate and regular figures on the extent of scripture in NSW state schools, saying individual schools collect scripture information and a state system would not be the best use of education resources.
It also rejected a recommendation to collect a broader amount of information about potential providers “to allow fuller consideration of appropriateness and governance structures and identify radical groups or cults”.
In a statement the department said the review “acknowledges that the policy and legal framework supporting freedom of religion and conscience in NSW government schools since 1848 will be maintained”.
The department supported recommendations including ensuring schools place clear information about SRE and special ethics education providers online annually, and requiring scripture and ethics providers to publish their application forms and approval criteria online.
It would also provide scripture providers with advice to “improve effective teaching practices, in particular age-appropriate learning experiences”.