EDUCATION ACT 1990 – SECTION 32
S 32 Special religious education
(1) In every government school, time is to be allowed for the religious education of children of any religious persuasion, but the total number of hours so allowed in a year is not to exceed, for each child, the number of school weeks in the year.
(2) The religious education to be given to children of any religious persuasion is to be given by a member of the clergy or other religious teacher of that persuasion authorised by the religious body to which the member of the clergy or other religious teacher belongs.
(3) The religious education to be given is in every case to be the religious education authorised by the religious body to which the member of the clergy or other religious teacher belongs.
(4) The times at which religious education is to be given to children of a particular religious persuasion are to be fixed by agreement between the principal of the school and the local member of the clergy or other religious teacher of that persuasion.
(5) Children attending a religious education class are to be separated from other children at the school while the class is held.
(6) If the relevant member of the clergy or other religious teacher fails to attend the school at the appointed time, the children are to be appropriately cared for at the school during the period set aside for religious education.
Taken from "Replacement Sections for the School Manual on Educational Management"
1. LEGISLATIVE PROVISION
The Education Act 1990 requires government schools to provide for two types of religious education:
" General Religious Education, which is part of the curriculum
" Special Religious Education, which is provided by authorised religious persuasions during part of the school week set aside specifically for that purpose.
2. GENERAL RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
General Religious Education involves learning about religions, the place of religion in society and the importance of religious beliefs for particular individuals and communities.
Schools provide General Religious Education in the key learning area of Human Society and Its Environment through Board of Studies syllabuses. In primary schools General Religious Education is provided for all students and in secondary schools it can be provided as an elective in Years 7-10 and 11-12. No dogmatic or polemical teaching is permitted.
3. SPECIAL RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
Special Religious Education, by recognised representatives of approved religious persuasions, may be given on the school premises and within school time as part of the regular school organisation. On certain occasions, at the discretion of the principal and with parental approval, the instruction may be given off the school premises.
The content will be authorised by the religious persuasion and will be provided by authorised representatives of that persuasion. Some religious persuasions have not been granted permission to give Special Religious Education in schools. Before admitting any representative of a religious persuasion to the school for the purpose if providing SRE, the principal should ensure that the religious persuasion has been given approval. Information regarding approved religious persuasions is available from the district superintendent. This information is updated when necessary in Education Gazette.
4. RIGHT OF WITHDRAWAL
Parents have the right to withdraw their child from any GRE or SRE lesson if they object to the content. Requests for withdrawal should be made in writing to the principal of the school.
Procedures for Special Religious Education
Under the Education Act 1997 there is a legislative requirement that “In every government school, time is to be allowed for the religious education of children of any religious persuasion”. In accordance with the Act and Departmental policy the times for such education “are to be fixed by agreement between the principal of the school and the local member of the clergy or other religious teacher of that persuasion”. The "local member” refers to the person nominated by the religious group to authorize special religious education teachers, courses and materials.
Religious persuasions provide Special Religious Education (SRE) for students in government schools based on their approval by the Department. The provision of SRE at a school is dependent on parents nominating a SRE class at or subsequent to enrolment.
The Act clearly defines the respective responsibilities of the school, religious persuasions and parents. It emphasises the need to implement SRE in a flexible way based on consultation and co-operation.
A. RESPONSIBILITIES OF SCHOOLS
There is a clear obligation on schools to facilitate SRE. It is not an option for schools.
1. SRE should be an integral part of school activities, taking place in school hours and under the jurisdiction of the school.
2. SRE should be organised for fixed times by negotiation and agreement between the principal of the school and those who have authorised the teachers in the school. Administrative convenience should not be the prime determining factor in these negotiations.
3. The lessons or period length for SRE should be consistent with the age and attention span of the students and the content and method of presentation.
4. On average, not more than one hour per week should be allocated for SRE. A flexible time schedule could be used, subject to the agreement of the parties concerned and provided that the time allocated in any one year does not exceed, for each student, an average of one hour per school week.
5. As part of the process of enrolment, parents and guardians are to be advised:
a. of the nature of SRE at the school, including the religious persuasions providing SRE and the arrangements which will be made for those students whose parents indicate that they are not to attend SRE;
b. that they can nominate a SRE class that they want their child to attend;
c. that they may nominate an alternative persuasion, where SRE is not offered for students of a particular religious persuasion or for other reasons;
d. that they may stipulate that their child is not to attend SRE classes.
6. SRE must be timetabled so that students may participate without conflict with other lessons and scheduled school activities.
7. Allowing non-participating students to arrive late or leave early, when SRE is timetabled at the beginning or end of the day, is not consistent with the Director- General"s memorandum on Special Religious Education (93.3316).
8. Students not attending SRE are to be appropriately cared for at school. This may include private study, but not timetabled lessons or scheduled school activities.
9. Only those persons authorised by approved religious persuasions may be involved in the provision of SRE.
10. Complaints concerning alleged teaching inefficiency or distortion of religious doctrine are to be referred to the relevant authorising body.
11. The school reserves the right to intervene in cases where it is necessary to maintain good order and conduct when an unreasonable disruption occurs to the school. The principal should pursue such matters with the relevant SRE authorities and, if necessary, with officers of the Department of Education and Training.
12. Arrangements are to be reviewed regularly with the representatives of the religious persuasions.
13. Parents and guardians are to be advised annually of the organisation of SRE classes. This advice should inform the parents of the religious persuasions that will be providing SRE for particular class or year groups.
14. The school is not responsible for and should not disseminate details of the content or staffing arrangements for SRE but may indicate the name and method of contacting the organiser of each religious persuasion.
15. Parents and guardians are to be advised throughout the year of any changed organisation and the availability of any new SRE class.
16. Student information is confidential and teachers of SRE are to be provided with only the names of the students in their class and any special information, such as disability or special need, that might affect the performance of particular students.
B. SCHOOL SRE CO-ORDINATOR
Where appropriate, a member of staff should be appointed as the school"s SRE coordinator. Duties of the co-ordinator should include:
a. arranging consultations by the middle of Term 4 between the school and representatives of the approved religious persuasions to determine the SRE organisation for the ensuing year
b. liaising with SRE teachers to:
i) familiarise them with the procedures and operations of the school, especially at the beginning of the year
ii) advise them of any variations of school routine affecting SRE
c. maintaining SRE records, including:
obtaining an up-to-date list of the authorised SRE teachers from the approved religious persuasions
ensuring that SRE teachers are given a list of the names of students in their class
d. preparing advice for parents on the organisation and composition of SRE classes and informing them of any changes.
C. RESPONSIBILITIES OF PROVIDERS
1. The appointment of personnel to teach SRE is the sole responsibility of each individual religious persuasion. The persuasions are not to authorise any person as a SRE teacher who has a criminal conviction for:
" a crime against a minor or
" violence or
" sexual assault
Every authorised religious persuasion must provide, annually to the Department, a written assurance that they have procedures in place to ensure compliance with this requirement. These assurances should be sent to:
The Executive Officer
Director-General"s Consultative Committee on SRE
GPO Box 33
2. It is the responsibility of each persuasion to provide sufficient SRE teachers. The relevant representative of the religious persuasion should inform the principal when SRE teachers are unavailable.
3. It is the responsibility of the approved religious persuasion to:
a) authorise representatives to teach SRE
b) authorise materials and pedagogy used by SRE teachers
c) ensure that the school is informed of the names and contact details of authorised SRE teachers.
d) provide information about the content of lessons when requested by parents.
4. In order to make best use of personnel, religious persuasions may appoint regional coordinators or professional teams to develop and undertake new organisational patterns of SRE, especially for secondary schools.
D. RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF PARENTS
1. Throughout the child"s schooling, parents have the right to enrol their child in, or withdraw their child from, any form of SRE at any time, without being required to state any reason. Notification of any changes in enrolment in SRE or intended withdrawal should be given to the school in writing.
2. Parents who enrol their children in SRE classes should recognise their responsibility to support and co-operate in SRE wherever possible.
E. SCHOOL ORGANISATION
The following patterns are some possible ways of organising SRE in schools. Care should be taken not to adopt any form of organisation which could be of more benefit to some persuasions than to others or be seen to be of more benefit.
1. Patterns based on class groups
a. Weekly class groups: In many schools, especially at the infants, primary and junior secondary levels, class-based organisation will support SRE because it features regular contact, planned and systematic teaching, and the opportunity for close interpersonal relationships.
b. Block teaching: Instead of a weekly period, SRE lessons can be timetabled to occupy blocks of time approximately equivalent to a year of weekly lessons. Lessons might occur on consecutive days, for one week twice a term, or for two weeks in succession. Other variations include half day blocks taught three times during a term.
c. One term a year: When there are a limited number of SRE teachers, students in one year group could have SRE once a week for one term. SRE could be provided for a different term for each year group.
d. Rotation of classes: The SRE lessons for a class or year could be timetabled to alternate with some other features of the curriculum, such as tutorial groups, special assemblies or year meetings on a fortnightly, month by month, or full term basis.
e. Seminars, conferences and one-day programs: This approach may be incorporated in a regular program of seminars, conferences and other learning experiences organised for Years 11 and 12. These arrangements are most suited to the senior secondary years but could be used with midsecondary and, in special circumstances, with junior secondary or primary years.
This pattern provides an opportunity for specialised personnel, equipment and resources to be used.
Only approved religious persuasions with students enrolled for their SRE may organise such programs. When time is allocated for these programs, then the school must ensure that there is equality of opportunity for all persuasions to organise similar programs.
f. Small group dialogue: Students may be organised into small groups for lessons with a member of the clergy or other religious teacher. This approach is often used as an adjunct to other systems, such as seminars and conferences.
g. Assemblies: While not normally a desirable method for regular SRE, special denominational assemblies provide an opportunity for religious participation, especially in relation to major festivals. They also facilitate the use of specialised personnel, resource materials and equipment.
2. Patterns based on grouping persuasions
When a number of religious persuasions agree to combine to provide SRE, these religious persuasions have to authorise the persons who teach and authorise the content of the religious teaching. No religious persuasion can be compelled to participate in these patterns of organisation. These patterns should be periodically reviewed and evaluated jointly by the school and the religious persuasions. No religious persuasion should feel compelled to continue to be included in any particular pattern.
a. Combined groups
SRE teachers are assigned to classes with students from participating denominations. This format is generally used when there are insufficient SRE teachers to staff denominational class groups. This form of organisation may include:
" weekly class meetings
" block teaching
" one term per year arrangements and
" a teacher appointed by one or more religious persuasions who operates across the timetable.
Where these formats are implemented the following criteria must be met:
Local members of the clergy or other religious teachers of approved religious persuasions are to agree on the format, approve the content of the religious teaching and authorise the SRE teachers.
ii) The organisation for persuasions not part of these arrangements should be separately negotiated.
No religious persuasion may be compelled to participate in such arrangements and care should be taken to overcome any disadvantage to non-participating persuasions as a result of this organisation.
Iv) Parents are to be informed of both the nature of the particular format to be adopted and the religious persuasions which have agreed to participate. The persuasions should, if requested by parents, make available an outline of the content of the religious teaching to assist parents to make a decision regarding their child"s attendance.
Students who are registered as belonging to a persuasion other than those that have authorised the teacher(s) may attend such classes only with the specific approval of their parents.
Schools are to provide appropriate care for students not attending SRE classes under these arrangements.
These arrangements may be supplemented with opportunities for specific denominational religious teaching.
viii) SRE teachers are not to interfere with the operation of the school.
b. Seminars, conferences and one-day programs
Only approved religious persuasions with students enrolled for their SRE may organise such programs. When organised jointly, the relevant religious persuasions have to agree to the format, authorise the teacher(s) and approve the religious teaching.
SRE assemblies, organised by one or more of the religious persuasions for a particular religious festival, provide an opportunity for religious persuasions to make use of the time allowed for SRE.
3. Other patterns
Where SRE is provided by other means, these arrangements need to be negotiated with the school principal and could include:
a. Individual or group research and assignment
This method has been employed by some SRE teachers in association with contract-type teaching or in open class situations in primary schools. It may be suitable for use on a private study basis, especially for students for whom face-to-face teaching is not available. It may be useful for interested post compulsory students who do not attend their school at the times when SRE is offered.
b. Distance education
SRE is now available to some isolated students receiving distance education. Enquiries regarding the availability of material should state the religious persuasion and be directed to the Executive Officer of the Director- General"s Consultative Committee on Special Religious Education, GPO Box 33, Sydney NSW 2001.
4. Supporting patterns
In agreeing to any supporting arrangements the principal is to take into account the overall provision of SRE for the nominating persuasion and the capacity of the personnel to carry out that activity within the principal"s duty of care.
a. Excursions and visits
Visits to certain places or events can be planned to provide some specific learning experience, often associated with a particular religious festival. Such excursions on a school day are the responsibility of the religious persuasion, which will negotiate the time with the principal, organise the excursion, seek parental approval and provide supervision. The nature of the excursion must be explained by the participating persuasions to parents and the parents" written consent obtained.
b. Camps and out of school contact
These are extra-curricular in nature and additional to SRE programs operating within schools. Where possible principals should make sure that parents are clear that these activities are not school activities. Schools should have no involvement in such activities. It should be made quite clear that these are organised by the relevant religious persuasions and are not school activities as such.
c. Support personnel
By arrangement between the principal and the authorising body, SRE teachers may be provided with accommodation to conduct interviews of a religious nature with students of their own persuasion, in the lunch hour or other agreed-upon times. These contacts, including those of an informal nature, should have due regard to school organisation and requirements and parental wishes. Where an SRE teacher assists the school in a voluntary capacity for school activities other than SRE, then that person is classified as a volunteer and has the same responsibilities and rights as all other volunteers. Principals and SRE teachers should ensure that, in all interactions with students, SRE teachers acting as volunteers respect the religious or non-religious beliefs of students.