Nambucca Heads High students opting out of Special Religious Education forced to sit in quadrangle

Learn about God or sit outside in the cold.

This is the choice for year 7/8 students at Nambucca Heads High School every second Tuesday when the Special Religious Education (SRE) classes are conducted.

A concerned parent of one student has raised questions about the school's practice of making kids who choose to opt out of SRE sit outside on the cement.

"It was raining this week and absolutely freezing," they said.

"Even in Summer, we had some really hot 40 degree days and they're sitting under a hot tin roof.

"It's like a punishment. I think it's horrible in this day and age."

When the parent asked the school earlier this year why students could not instead make use of the library during this period, they said they were told that it would "give those students an unfair advantage" over the ones participating in SRE, and that other classes were often using the library at the time.

Until this year SRE or 'scripture' was mandatory in NSW unless a student decided to opt out, and those who do are still not allowed to participate in any formal lessons.

The official Department of Education policy states:

In the allocated time/s set aside for SRE, students not attending are to be provided with supervised alternative meaningful activities. This could include reading, private study or completing homework. They must be in a separate physical space from SRE classes and be supervised by a member of the school staff. Supervision of students is to be consistent with the department's duty of care requirements outlined in the Code of Conduct. Students are not to be participating in lessons in the school curriculum or other extra-curricular activities during this time.

A spokesperson for the Department confirmed students at the school are "supervised in meaningful activities as described in the procedures above in a designated area of the quad".

But according to students, many simply sit on the ground until they are allowed back inside.

Very occasionally they'll be allowed in the library.

"Sometimes we have a teacher, but sometimes not," one student said.

"And we don't get given activities to do."

They said that in their class of roughly 25 kids, only five participate in the scripture classes.

Despite not adhering to organised religion, one parent has considered encouraging their child to participate in scripture classes so at least they're not left outside.

Illustration by Simon Letch

Illustration by Simon Letch

SRE has been a controversial issue lately with many NSW teachers wanting it gone.

Earlier this year the NSW Teachers Federation campaigned to remove scripture from NSW public schools after criticising the "antiquated" policy.

"With the issue around the crowded curriculum, it's one of those things that's in there chewing up time," Secondary Principals Council president Chris Presland said.

"It's hugely inconvenient in the secondary system. At the majority of secondary schools, the participation in religious education is minimal."

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