Wagga leaders are opposing calls for religious education to be scrapped in government high schools in response to issues raised by principals.
The Secondary Principals’ Council has called for a raft of reforms in their submission to the NSW Curriculum Review such as cutting Special Religious Education, arguing that it is wasting valuable time that should be spent on learning.
Phillip Banton teaches Christian SRE to Wagga, Kooringal and Mount Austin high schools as an optional subject to Year 7 students every Monday for 40 minutes.
Kooringal High School also offers SRE to Year 8 students and Mr Banton said about 50 per cent of students undertake scripture, often a decision made by their parents.
“I think it would be a major loss to the overall education spaces that school is, which should offer a holistic approach,” Mr Banton said.
“A review into scripture by the Department of Education found SRE as an emotional framework that provided something that was beneficial to students who participated in it.”
Mr Banton argued that not all families are able to send their children to religious or private schooling.
“The reality is that not every family can access private and religious schools,” he said.
“From my perspective, it is not a reasonable argument that parents who want their child to receive religious education should be sent to religious schools.
“I think this sets up some sort of competition that should not exist; every person has a world view and they bring it to that world space, so it would be a great loss to the system.”
Scott Goode, member of the churches board, which resource and administrate scripture in primary and secondary schools, said students have a right to learn this subject.
“SRE provision is predicated on the desire of students and parents to receive religious education by authorised providers of churches,” Mr Goode said.
“If such students wanted access to SRE, then that is their right.”
While Reverend Goode said he can understand where high school principals are coming from, SRE has a “positive relationship” with schools and parents in regional areas.
“We understand the needs and the ethos to the school and we’re not an agitating influence at all, from our perspective we have a positive relationship with our schools and community,” Reverend Goode said.
“From the feedback we have received our SRE teachers are seen as an asset.”
NSW Secondary Principals’ Council president Chris Presland argued public education should be “free and secular”.
“If people want religious education, then they can pursue this outside of school time or sent to a religious school,” Mr Presland said.
“This is about taking up curriculum time with something that they can access in their own time.”
Wagga’s Catholic priest Paddy Sykes argued that this demonstrates a decrease in religion and an emphasis on secularisation.
“I think that schools need to offer their students a very wide curriculum as possible and obviously school sizes will determine if they have the capacity to offer SRE,” Mr Sykes said.
“SRE is not compulsory and people have to choose to be apart of it.
“For those people in high school who want to receive SRE or their parents, then they should be able to attend those classes in the same way people choose other subjects.”