Bipartisan support for SRE – volunteer religious teachers in schools

SRE award winners

The biggest post-Covid lockdown crowd, according to Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell packed the NSW Parliament to celebrate SRE, (Special Religious Education) that sends volunteers into schools each week to teach faith-based lessons.

“It’s lovely to see standing room only,” The Minister said opening a night that thanked and awarded SRE teachers,

 “It is certainly something that is appreciated, the volunteers’ time and effort people put into special religious education. We have more than 11,000 volunteer teachers playing a critical role.” She described SRE as one of the largest volunteer bases in the community.

“As a government, the Liberals and Nationals, of course, remain very committed to supporting the important role of special religious education in our New South Wales public schools.” Minister Mitchell added. “Ee also appreciate the work of course that our special religious education providers do, particularly around making sure we develop strong standards and best practices with high quality research. We continue our support for a National Center of Excellence in Religious education and that’s been our position for some time and will continue to be the case.”

SRE is the product of a mature multiculturalism, said Bishop Brian Mascord who leads the Catholic Diocese of Wollongong, in thanking the minister. “The strength of SRE is seen in this room tonight. You see families, as you said, have a choice. And the presence of SRE in our state schools gives families the opportunity to take up their responsibility of achieving a complete and holistic experience of education. In both religious and nonreligious formation, through values and ethics. You see the choice matters. And it speaks volumes about the mature and confident multicultural state that New South Wales has become. And it continues to nurture that multiculturalism and encourages us to see beyond difference to see what we hold in common. This nurturing is seen in the fact that we as a state choose to enrich this diversity through the sensible commitment to SRE.”

Labor was equally well represented on the night. “Of course, we all know that Special Religious Education has been an important player in education in New South Wales, and supporting this respecting of identity since the 1980s,” said Prue Car the Shadow Minister for education.

“In fact, it was the Wran Labor government that established the principle that learning about religion and faith should be part of the education available to children in New South Wales government schools, that the teaching of faith and Scripture should be available for the children of parents who want it underpinned by the principle of parental choice and I want to be really clear this evening with everyone here. “

Car supported building SRE into a new digital enrolment system currently being rolled out. “The Labor opposition is committed to parental choice, whether that be SRE in their chosen faith, as a non-religious option or meaningful activities [for students who don’t do SRE or Ethics]. We are committed to parental choice. Looking forward, we very much hope to see a successful rollout of the digital enrollment form, which has held four years of bipartisan support.”

“We want to see an optional religious identity question on the form where parents identify with a faith community. We want to make sure that that information can inform and lead schools to partner with the local faith communities to provide the resources needed to support families of faith.”

Both parties committed to opposing religious bullying in schools. Research into SRE has shown that a well-run SRE program can reduce bullying.

The multi-faith character of SRE was evident when Minister Mitchell began her task of presenting service awards to volunteer teachers starting with Gail Allard who teaches Buddhist Scripture, followed by Shantha Kumari a Hindu teacher, and Coral Birch who teaches Christian SRE.

A special award went to the Inter-Church Commission On Religious Education In Schools, as it celebrates its 50th year. 

A posthumous award for Barry Porter who taught Christian SRE at Orange and Canobolas High schools but started at Endeavour Sports High, but died last month in a motorbike accident was accepted by his son Liam.

Following this display of multiculturalism in action, the Minister for Multiculturalism, Mark Coure followed up “We commend those who are vital contributors to teaching the values of tolerance and interfaith understanding to the next generation of young leaders. Religious Education is incredibly important. It fosters a sense of knowledge and appreciation for the many faiths followed by our wonderful families and local communities in New South Wales. So tonight, as we share the achievements of our religious education, of religious education across our faith groups, we say thank you.”

Steve Kamper the Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism, expressed his pleasure at being at the 6th awards night for SRE and pointed to a very personal connection. “As I look across the room, I see hundreds of people, hundreds of people who have committed large parts of their lives to come together to build SRE in our state and to offer the next generation the messages of hope, peace and spirituality that will make a better future for all of us. You and the many others who could not be here tonight. deserve recognition. 

“Without your efforts, our society would be much poorer, in the things that truly matter. Of course, faith is not an isolated part of our lives. It is an important part of our broader culture. My mother, whom I lost earlier this year, started teaching SRE at the age of 49. She was newly widowed, she saw SRE as a way to pass on the faith and culture of her Greek heritage to the new generation, who were born here. No doubt many of you here tonight know that feeling well.”