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At primary school: religious classes … or not? It's your choice!

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In NSW public primary schools parents can choose to send their children to religious classes, ethics classes or so-called ‘supervised’ activities. But not everyone knows that they have a choice, or indeed any choice, says volunteer Primary ethics teacher Carey Francis. This article provides North Shore mums with some background so that they can make an informed decision.

Parents have a choice

Let’s start with some background to religion in NSW schools. Under the NSW Education Act 1990, public schools provide Special Religious Education (SRE, also known as ‘scripture’) and offer the option of Special Education in Ethics (SEE, ‘ethics’) to students who are not attending scripture. School principals support scripture and ethics by ensuring that no academic instruction or formal school activities occur during the time set aside for these classes. Students not attending scripture or ethics go to a separate space and are provided with meaningful activities such as reading, private study or completing homework; this is known as ‘non-scripture’.

What does all this mean in practice?

It means that you have a choice for your child. You can choose whether you want them to go to scripture, ethics or non-scripture. However, many parents don’t know that all these options might exist.

Schools have two main opportunities to inform parents about their options for scripture, ethics and non-scripture: a one-off opportunity at enrolment and annually at the start of each school year via the so-called scripture note.

Enrolment – the first opportunity to tell parents they have a choice

In 2015, parents can opt their child into their nominated religion or into ethics (if available) using the current school enrolment form. However, plans to change the enrolment form for future years would mean that parents interested in scripture could opt their child in to the nominated religion at enrolment, but parents interested in ethics would have to contact the school separately to opt their child into ethics.

How do schools use the information on the enrolment form?

DEC guidance states that schools should register students automatically in their nominated religion if that religion is available and that the student should continue in the nominated religion unless the parents advise otherwise.

However, I’m not convinced that all schools do this. At my children’s school, children are not enrolled into a religious class until the parents have returned the completed scripture note.

Scripture note – the annual opportunity to remind parents of their choice

At the start of the school year, schools send home a form offering parents the choice between the religious classes offered and non-scripture. Parents who opt in to non-scripture then receive another note, if ethics is available, offering them the chance to choose ethics.

This situation frustrates parents who might have considered ethics classes for their child but had no idea that such classes existed. Unless you already know the enrolment route, getting your child into ethics is a bit like joining a secret society. As a parent, you had to know someone who explained that you should tick non-scripture, then choose ethics on the next form.

Ask about the options at your particular school

NSW schools generally have a wide choice of options available during the classes timetabled for scripture. The religions offered will vary from school to school. Ethics is available in more than 320 schools; Primary Ethics can help parents who want to introduce ethics at their school. Parents can choose to send their child to non-scripture. Find out what’s offered at your school so that you can make an informed decision.

 

About the author: Carey has been a volunteer teacher for Primary Ethics since 2013 and now teaches about 70 children ethics at three primary schools in Sydney. She has two children and lives in Lindfield. Before having children Carey led the business ethics program at an international company and helped employees think through its code of conduct.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on having a choice on whether or not to do religious classes at school in the comments section below. No debates about religion please…

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