Education and Youth Development

Review of special religious and ethics education in NSW

NSW Department of Education and Communities, 2015-16.


Special Religious Education (SRE)—as distinct from general religious education—has been provided in NSW Government schools since the nineteenth century. Special religious education in NSW Government schools was last reviewed in 1980. Special Education in Ethics (SEE), as a secular alternative to SRE, has been available since 2011. The introduction of SEE in 2011 was contested, highly scrutinised and politicised, with it and its related processes having been publicly debated during 2015, with the release of new enrolment forms in 2014 and 2015.


In 2014, the NSW Department of Education commissioned an independent review of the implementation of Special Religious Education and Special Education in Ethics classes in NSW Government schools ‘to examine the implementation of SRE and SEE and report on the performance of the Department, schools and providers’. The Review was commissioned in response to Recommendation 14 of the Legislative Council General Response Standing Committee No. 2: Report No. 38 Education Amendment (Ethics Classes Repeal) Bill 2011 (May 2012) which also specified areas for the review to cover.


The Review examined the implementation of SRE and SEE in NSW Government schools between December 2014 and September 2015. The Review used a comprehensive mix of methods to collect quantitative data across all schools, and the wider community, as well as in-depth qualitative data from key stakeholders. The methods provided all interested stakeholders and the community with the opportunity to present their views so that the findings and recommendations were based on a systematic and balanced assessment.
Methods included a review of departmental and provider documents and websites, development of case studies from interviews and surveys with principals and teachers, SRE and SEE providers and other stakeholders, and analysis of over 10,000 responses from the community through an online portal.


There were highly polarised views in the community about the place of SRE or SEE in NSW Government schools, and conclusions about the continuation of SRE or SEE in NSW Government schools was out of scope for this review. In a publicly available report, ARTD provided 56 in depth recommendations addressing implementation procedures, complaints procedures, training structures and delivery procedures, and examined the nature and extent, and the relevance and age appropriateness for children aged K-10 for both SRE and SEE. The report also reviewed the activities and level of supervision for those who attend neither SRE nor SEE, and the need for annual confirmation on SRE choice and opt-out.

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