THE NSW Department of Education has shown a remarkable lack of faith in Hunter state high schools by refusing to release school-supplied scripture figures to the Newcastle Herald because it doesn’t believe them.
Basic information about the number of children attending scripture classes at Hunter state high schools, the times of day classes are held and the religious denominations running them remain hidden, in a major vote of no confidence in the local schools implementing scripture guidelines, and the churches providing scripture figures.
‘‘We have information from schools that I do not believe is 100per cent accurate,’’ Department of Education media unit director Mark Davis said yesterday.
‘‘I have spoken to other people and they can’t guarantee to me that they are 100per cent accurate.’’
The admission came only days after NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli declined to respond to questions about a Newcastle Christian Church’s website describing scripture teachers as ‘‘government-endorsed evangelists’’, contrary to government policy, which prompted critics to call for an end to scripture in state schools.
‘‘It is time to confront the reality that the justification for 134 years of state-endorsed evangelism has to come to an end,’’ Greens NSW education spokesman Dr John Kaye said.
‘‘The protocols that are supposed to protect students from non-religious backgrounds have failed. The churches are seeing scripture as an open invitation to recruit young and impressionable converts, public school administrators are not coping, and the minister is doing nothing.’’
Human Rights Advocacy Australia spokesman Darrin Morgan said the department’s decision not to release the scripture figures supplied by Hunter state high schools was proof scripture implementation guidelines were deliberately opaque, were being abused in Hunter schools, and it was virtually impossible for parents to know what was happening.
‘‘What we’re dealing with now is a complete, utter logistical fiasco, and it’s just not doing the right thing by the NSW public,’’ Mr Morgan said.
The Herald requested basic information from all Hunter state high schools more than two weeks ago, after scripture attendance figures from nine schools, released by the Department of Education, raised serious questions about whether schools were complying with government scripture guidelines.
The figures suggested some schools tried to minimise the number of students who opted out of scripture, or provided misleading or confusing information about parents’ rights to have their children opt out, Mr Morgan said.
Newcastle High School and its scripture provider produced different figures for the numbers attending scripture, and the Department of Education confirmed the school had not followed government guidelines in the material sent out to parents about their right to opt children out.
Mr Morgan said the material supplied to parents across all Hunter state high schools showed evidence some schools repressed information to parents because of the ‘‘administrative or logical difficulties’’ of a system under which children who opt out still have to be supervised, but cannot be taught a lesson.