Thursday, 22 June 2017

Airbrushing the ugly underbelly of special religious education classes in state public schools

Government reports that review policies which interface education, religion and political ideology can be slippery creatures......

The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 September 2016:

The findings and recommendations of a controversial $300,000 review of special religious education and ethics classes in schools has been kept under wraps by the NSW government for up to nine months.
The review was a recommendation of a 2012 upper house inquiry into ethics classes in NSW schools, which found they should be retained as an option for students who do not want to take part in special religious education.
The inquiry recommended the Department of Education publish the number of students taking part in ethics (SEE) and special religious education (SRE) classes, or neither, and that both types of class be reviewed in 2014-15.
The review, by ARTD Consultants, cost $295,988. Submissions closed on July 31 last year and the review was due for delivery to the NSW government shortly after the contract period ended on December 31…..
A spokesman for Mr Piccoli confirmed the cost of the review.
But he would not say when the report was handed to the government, whether a draft was first provided to the minister, when it would be released or when the government would respond…
A new enrolment form was later introduced that removed a clear choice between ethics and scripture by omitting a box that could be ticked by parents who wanted to enrol their children in ethics classes.
It came after documents obtained under freedom of information laws revealed religious groups blamed the introduction of ethics classes for falling participation in special religious education classes for the 2015 school year.
The NSW government's review of scripture in public schools deleted a section of a 2015 draft report showing children were exposed to lessons on the conservative Christian concept of "headship" – where women "submit" to their husbands – and negative messages on homosexuality.
When the Department of Education released a final report in April, after a 17-month delay, sections of the draft report that validated scripture opponents' concerns about the growing and unacknowledged influence of evangelical Christian groups in state schools were deleted or paraphrased.
The deleted sections included a primary school principal's difficulty obtaining evidence of working with children clearances from a special religious education (SRE) or scripture provider, and examples of children exposed to messages on gender and homosexuality that breached department guidelines…..
The draft ARTD Consultants report found an unidentified major Christian publisher's lesson material taught "the concept of 'headship' and that women should submit to their husbands, abstinence only sex education, negative LGBTI messages and that sexual intimacy is only acceptable to God between a married man and woman".
The Department of Education deleted the sentence and replaced it with the words: "The text also contained messages about sex education, which is not appropriate or the role of SRE"…..
The department deleted a section of the draft stating the conservative Sydney Anglican Diocese-backed Generate Ministries "has become a very influential player" in the delivery of secondary school SRE. The organisation was founded by Sydney Anglican Youthworks, Presbyterian Youth NSW, NSW Baptist Churches and Scripture Union NSW.
The department also deleted that "parents (and schools) appear to be largely unaware of the links their high school SRE teacher might have with Generate Ministries", and that the "influence" of third party groups "such as Generate Ministries on the delivery of SRE is currently unacknowledged".
It replaced the section with a sentence noting that the roles of boards, committees and "third party groups doing their human resource functions may not always be known or clear to parents", and without identifying Generate Ministries. 
Generate Ministries is governed by its founding partners, has at least 110 SRE "boards" and received $4 million in government funds in 2016 to provide chaplains in more than 200 NSW schools. Its website values include seeking to "be dependent on God" and "model courageous, entrepreneurial, servant-hearted leadership". 
The final ARTD Consultants report released in April noted some NSW school principals reported feeling "undue pressure" from a scripture provider, but the Department of Education deleted the draft report's naming of it as an Anglican provider…..
The final report retained a section of the draft showing a large Christian publisher's workbook in 2015 contained material that was "age-inappropriate and insensitive to children's welfare", with "negative passages" including that "cancer is a consequence of our sin and a gift from God" and that "we should die for our faith if necessary".
The ARTD report found the level of complaints about SRE was low but they were most often about lesson content. Parents were less satisfied than principals and scripture providers that complaints were handled appropriately.


NSW Dept. of Education, website as of 19 June 2017:

Review of Special Religious Education and Special Education in Ethics in NSW government schools
The 2015 Review of Special Religious Education (SRE) and Special Education in Ethics (SEE) in NSW Government Schools was conducted by ARTD Consultants.
The report makes 56 recommendations. 22 of the recommendations will be considered in consultation with the NSW Consultative Committee for SRE and NSW Consultative Committee for SEE. The department has responded to the remaining 34 recommendations. These are provided as separate documents.
Full report (PDF 2.96MB) [airbrushed report, dated 23 March 2016]*

* My annotation

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