In February 2012, Anglican EdComm, acting on behalf of the Diocese of Sydney, urged the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Education Amendment (Ethics Classes Repeal) Bill, to commission an external review of the teaching of Special Religious Education (Scripture) and Special Education in Ethics in government schools in New South Wales. There was vocal opposition from some members of the Committee but the Government bought the idea and ARTD Consultants were given the task. The Review occurred throughout 2015.
On April 11 this year the Government released a 186 page Report including over fifty recommendations. It can be downloaded from the NSW Department of Education and Communities website.
Contrary to the author of the headline in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 12, the Government announced that it would support the vast majority of recommendations, qualified only by the consultation yet to occur between the Department of Education and the Consultative Committees comprising the providers of SEE and SRE.
As Reports go (I have written many and read even more!) it is remarkably well-written and its recommendations are very much evidence based. It pulls no punches. It concedes quality and goodwill where it was observed but it also draws attention to quite a few areas in which significant improvement is required.
This should come as no surprise as there has not been a system-wide evaluation of the quality of SRE since 1880. Interestingly enough, on almost every point, the ARTD Review confirms the findings of a very small audit of Anglican Primary SRE conducted by Anglican EdComm in 2013.
The ARTD Review offers the providers of SRE in particular with an abundant body of evidence on which a more creative and robust program of religious education can be delivered in government schools over the next decade. The Department of Education is very much on side. It now depends on whether the approved providers (there are 108 of them across the state) are prepared to invest more money, energy and time in enhancing their role as providers.
The challenges include being more transparent about the purpose and content of SRE and the manner in which volunteer SRE teachers are selected, inducted, trained, mentored and encouraged, and investing more money in developing a curriculum and supporting resources that are more age-appropriate, relevant to mainstream learning and more cognitively challenging.
To meet contemporary standards, all providers will need to access experts in pedagogy and evaluation. Providers will be required to carry out regular audits and make the findings public. Providers will need to be more rigorous in their collection and analysis of participation data. And a higher priority will need to be given by individual parishes to the cultivation of warm professional relationships with the leadership and staff of the schools they seek to serve.
Will the SRE providers and the churches and religions they represent rise to the challenge? I guess it depends on whether they want to still be delivering SRE in a decade’s time and how much they are prepared to invest in it. Certainly, without this, lessons will cease to be delivered in prime learning time and enrolments will decline, notwithstanding the Government’s retention on an opt-out approach rather than opt-in!