Religious instruction in schools in New South Wales takes a number of forms across the various school sectors and often plays an important part in the school curriculum. Religion forms a critical component of every culture and is fundamental to an understanding of the workings of human society.
The New South Wales religion syllabus outlines a continuum of learning from Kindergarten all the way up until Year 12. It allows for an investigation into the significance of the role of religion in society and specifically within Australia. It also places a great deal of emphasis on Aboriginal belief systems and spirituality. As Australia is a multi-faith and multicultural society, the syllabus allows students to explore religious expression in Australia and the place of religion in a global context.
Schools in New South Wales are required to provide religious education of two distinct types: General Religious Education (GRE) and Special Religious Education (SRE).
- General religious education refers to education about the major religions of the world. It teaches about what beliefs those of different faiths hold, and how that belief impacts on their lives. GRE is predominantly taught through the New South Wales school curriculum.
- Special religious education is education that is delivered by representatives of a given religion, and teaches about the specificities in the beliefs and practices of that religion.
Schools provide general religious education in the human society and its environment stream. These lessons explore the place of religion in society, the diversity and history of religions, and the importance of religious beliefs for particular individuals and communities.
Special religious education (SRE) is also provided in New South Wales public schools. Authorised representatives of approved religious groups are invited to schools to teach students. Currently, students in Years 5 and 6 who do not wish to attend SRE classes can choose to attend ethics classes. The possibility of extending this option to Year 3 and 4 students is being explored.
Parents and caregivers are required to provide details of their child's religious denomination at the time of enrolment. SRE is non-compulsory and parents have the option to withdraw their child from classes at any time they wish. Students who elect not to complete SRE are provided with alternate activities, such as private study.
The NSW Catholic Education Commission has produced a document in relation to religious education in schools. It is entitled Towards Wholeness 7 10: A Catholic Perspective on Personal Development, Health and Physical Education and can be found on the Commission's website.