Special Religious Education
Special Religious Education (SRE) provides an important religious dimension in public schooling that contributes to Catholic formation. In NSW, religious education is mandated by Section 32 of the Education Act 1990 (NSW), which gives approved religious authorities (such as Christian churches) and those they authorise, permission to teach SRE to students in NSW public schools. Similarly, in the ACT, Section 29 of the Education Act 2004 (ACT) allows for parents of children at an ACT Public School to request that their child receive religious education in a particular religion. If such a request is received, there is a requirement that reasonable time within the school curriculum is allowed for the child to receive religious education in the requested religion. For both NSW and ACT settings, there are published policies and procedures which outlines how SRE is to be delivered, monitored and reviewed.
Two core expectations for the delivery is that SRE teachers (catechists) must be authorised by an approved SRE providers and must teach from an authorised curriculum.
Furthermore, the Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn (or his delegate) provides a yearly assurance to the relevant authorities confirming that all authorised SRE teachers:
- Have a valid working with children check that has been verified by the parish;
- Are provided with mandatory initial training and ongoing training in child protection, classroom management and use of the approved curriculum/s; and
- Will teach from approved primary and/or secondary school curriculums “in an age-appropriate manner with sensitivity” and comply with government regulations and requirements.
Key Roles & Responsibilities
The Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn
As a recognised provider of SRE in both NSW and ACT, the Archdiocese holds the responsibility for ensuring that all ministry conducted by catechists is in line with government regulations and upholds the standards of the Catholic Church. The Archdiocese exercises this responsibility by: (1) implementing a framework for the recruitment and selection of volunteers; (2) facilitating training and formation and resourcing; and (3) maintaining open and effective communication with participating schools as well as the NSW and ACT Governments.
At the local day-to-day level, Parish Priests are ultimately responsible for all catechists who conduct ministry within and on behalf of their parish. They are required to:
- Meet with, interview, and seek authorisation from the Archdiocese for all volunteers who wish to be involved in SRE in the parish;
- Ensure that all volunteers have obtained the necessary Government clearances and are authorised by the Archdiocese before any ministry is conducted. For parishes in NSW, this involves a Working with Children’s Check (WWCC) and for parishes in the ACT, this involves a Working with Vulnerable People registration (WWVP);
- Ensure that all volunteers undergo the mandatory training provided by the Archdiocese, and maintain their commitment to professional development throughout the duration of being involved in ministry;
- Manage relationships with local state schools within parish boundaries;
- Ensure that all volunteers have access to the authorised teaching materials and resources that are approved for use in the Archdiocese; and
- Seek support and direction from the Archdiocesan Formation Coordinator and/or other Chancery staff when required.
Parish Catechist Coordinator
Some parishes may have a Parish Catechist Coordinator who will help to manage and support catechists and assistants in aspects of the ministry which are delegated to them by the Parish Priest / Parish Administrator. This may include exercising leadership in the recruitment, selection, induction, and ongoing support of catechists in the parish. More often than not, Coordinators are usually volunteer catechists themselves, but are likely to possess a significant level of experience and expertise with SRE. All Parish Catechist Coordinators are closely supported by the Archdiocesan Pastoral and Mission Formation Coordinator.
School Principal (or their Delegate)
Any SRE activities that are carried out in local state schools is done so under the direction of the school principal, who may at their discretion appoint another member of staff to act as the school’s SRE coordinator. This person oversees the logistics of how classes will operate within the school setting and manages all associated tasks such as allocation of students, appropriate teaching spaces, and informing catechists of all applicable visitor protocols. A working relationship with this person in each public school within the parish is vital to the success of the SRE ministry.
Pastoral & Mission Formation Coordinator
While the delivery of SRE is understood to be a parish-based ministry, the Pastoral & Mission Formation Coordinator within the Archbishop’s Office for Evangelisation has the role of supporting parishes to administer, support and train parish coordinators and catechists in their ministry. In collaboration with other various Archdiocesan staff and agencies, the Pastoral & Mission Formation Coordinator implements and monitors the overarching framework for authorising catechists for ministry and is responsible for building a consistent approach to SRE delivery across the Archdiocese by way of initial training, ongoing formation, and the sharing of resources. This role also acts as an authorised representative of the Archdiocese to participate in any regulatory processes and to disseminate any policy directives set by the NSW and ACT Governments.
Institute for Professional Standards and Safeguarding
The Institute for Professional Standards and Safeguarding (IPSS) of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn seeks to facilitate strong, supportive and right relationships across all ministry settings in the Archdiocese and is responsible for the development of policy, procedures, formation and education to ensure compliance with legal, civil and and canon law requirements for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.
In relation to SRE, the IPSS provides particular support to parishes and catechists by way of managing record-keeping and Government clearances (WWWC and WWVP); formal complaints; and mandatory reporting.