NSW high school principals want religious education to be scrapped, saying it is taking up valuable time that should be spent on learning.
Principals also want the HSC syllabus to begin a term earlier, mathematics to remain optional rather than become mandatory in year 12, and compulsory languages to be dropped from high school.
The principals also warned against making maths compulsory in the HSC, despite growing calls for greater emphasis on the subject.CREDIT:JANIE BARRETT
The Secondary Principals' Council has called for a raft of reforms in their submission to the NSW Curriculum Review, which was announced by the NSW government in May and has been described as a once-in-a-generation overhaul.
The review will look at de-cluttering the curriculum, so the council said Special Religious Education should be one of the first things cut from the high school timetable.
At present, SRE is mandatory for 40 minutes per week. Ethics is not offered in high schools, and those who opt out of scripture are not allowed to do any meaningful activity during that period.
"With the issue around the crowded curriculum, it's one of those things that's in there chewing up time," said council president Chris Presland. "It's hugely inconvenient in the secondary system. At the majority of secondary schools, the participation in religious education is minimal."
The principals also warned against making maths compulsory in the HSC, despite growing calls for greater emphasis on the subject. The most recent was by chief scientist Alan Finkel, who said giving up on maths drastically limited students' options.
"The notion of forcing kids to study mathematics - which is not numeracy - in years 11 and 12 is a retrograde step," said Mr Presland. "We don't think it's productive. We're not going to get anything out of forcing the bottom end of kids to do maths."
The HSC time frame also needed a rethink, as four terms was not enough. The council suggested either starting the HSC syllabus a term earlier - in term 3, year 11, rather than term 4 - or reducing the minimum load from 10 to eight units.
"The HSC is quite crammed," Mr Presland said. "In most schools, during the four terms, you will lose time for wind downs, half yearly exams and the trial HSC."
The preoccupation with the HSC was affecting students in junior high school, "where there is perceived or real pressure to skew learning experiences to the potential choice of subjects in stage six, and imbue students with the anxiety," the submission said.
"Good teachers do not do this, but the system does point in this direction with the ATAR intensifying pressure on learners and teachers."
The compulsory study of foreign languages - students are required to do 100 hours in years seven and eight - should be moved to primary school, where it would be more useful, the submission said.
"In terms of language aquisition skills, the younger the better," Mr Presland said. "In stage four (years 7 and 8), their levels of interest are not high, and there's difficulty getting qualified teachers."
The Record of School Achievement, given to students that don't stay for the HSC, should also be given higher status as a credential, and be revised to give a more comprehensive appraisal of the student's record. "It would be useful for employers," Mr Presland said.
If the government was unwilling to scrap religion, principals reiterated their call for students who opt out of scripture to be allowed to spend their time productively - a proposal that has previously been rejected by the NSW government.
Fairness In Religion In School backed the council's call for scripture to be scrapped. "We believe that the time should be returned for professional educators," said spokesman Darrin Morgan.
NSW Christian SRE spokesperson Murray Norman said no one was forced to attend religious education.
"A ground-breaking independent report into SRE in NSW schools, released only last week, has found that SRE brings important psychological benefits to students’ mental health and wellbeing and reduces the risk of mental illness," he said.