Drop in religious students threatens scripture classes

The NSW Department of Education does not track Special Religious Education enrolments (Dreamstime)

Fewer public school students in New South Wales are identifying with a religion, but there is still no information about how many families are opting for Special Religious Education. Source: Sydney Morning Herald.

The number of NSW public school students who do not identify with a religion surged by 13 per cent in the three years to 2018, making non-believers the fastest-growing group, ahead of Islam and Hinduism.

About 43 per cent of students did not nominate a religion last year, Department of Education figures show. They come as principal and teacher groups push for mandatory Special Religious Education (SRE) to be scrapped from high school.

While the majority of religious students still identified with Christianity, that category also suffered the biggest decline in raw numbers, with more than 24,000 fewer students identifying as Anglican, Catholic, Uniting Church or Protestant.

Meanwhile, 3,500 more students identified as Muslim, and 3000 more identified as Hindu between 2016 and 2018.

The number of students choosing either no religion or leaving the section blank grew by about 40,000 over the three-year period. Primary school students were more likely to have a religion on their enrolment form indicated than high school students.

The NSW Department of Education does not track SRE enrolments, so religious affiliation is the only indicator of the subject's popularity. However, even that data will no longer be available from this year due to changes to SRE enrolment procedures.

The new process makes it easier for parents to select non-scripture but means the department no longer collects centralised information on religious affiliation.

Pressure is mounting on SRE in NSW public schools, with two influential stakeholders, the NSW Teachers Federation and the Secondary Principals Council, calling for an end to mandatory SRE.

Chris Presland from the council said removing SRE from secondary schools was a simple way to “free up” about 40 minutes a week amid concerns about an over-crowded curriculum.

Christian SRE spokesman Murray Norman said SRE in schools was about giving parents the right to choose what they wanted for their children. “SRE is about values, and values should be at the core of every student’s holistic education,” he said.

FULL STORY

Fewer students identifying a religion fuels push to scrap scripture (Sydney Morning Herald

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