New policy changes announced by the NSW government this month will give parents choice in deciding whether their child participates in ethics classes.
The state government is changing school enrolment forms to make it easier for families – a move that will likely see an increase in attendance, ethics supporters say.
Parents will be able to choose between ethics and religious education on a single form next year.
The government has scrapped the system that made it more difficult to opt out of scripture classes.
The new form will detail all options available at a school – scripture, ethics, or neither, with scripture no longer existing as the ‘default’ option.
Ethics education is a free program delivered by trained volunteers. It is offered to all children in NSW public schools from kindergarten to year 6, provided volunteers are available.
In the classes, children are encouraged to listen to different viewpoints, build and evaluate arguments, in the aim of making better decisions when faced with ethical issues.
Children in year 3-6 discuss topics including selfishness, friendship, cheating, punishment, homelessness and fairness.
In year 3-4, topics may include animal cruelty, breaking promises, and generosity, while in year 5-6, children may talk about voting, vanity, stealing, human rights, respect and drugs in sport.
In St George, 1300 pupils across 21 schools were enrolled in ethics classes run by 65 volunteers this year.
In Sutherland Shire, 1200 pupils across 24 schools participated in 2018, with the support of 61 volunteers.
St George regional manager for Primary Ethics, Jill Hennessy, says while the demands for ethics is already strong, this policy change will boost numbers.
“This year, we have been fortunate to be able to offer ethics classes in 21 public schools in the region through a wonderful team of volunteers”, Ms Hennessy said.
“Each year, the number of St George schools offering ethics classes has been growing.
“There is already a strong demand for ethics classes in St George, and we already knew that we needed more volunteer teachers for 2019.
“But the new information now being given to parents means that there is likely to be an even greater demand for ethics classes in the future.
“To meet the existing demand for ethics classes, and to accommodate the expected increased demand, we need more volunteers to help us deliver this amazing program.”
Volunteers can be parents, grandparents or community members. They will be trained to deliver lesson materials. Teaching experience is not required.
Education minister Rob Stokes says the government is seeking to resolve the long-standing concerns about transparency.
“This will also make it simpler for schools,” he said. “With the existing process, you are required to effectively label your child. You identify what religion you would like them to be instructed in.”
Fairfax Media reported that the government had denied it had struck a deal with Christian Democrats MP Fred Nile, who opposed ethics, but says he supports the policy change “as long as special religious education” is on the form.
SCHOOLS THAT OFFER ETHICS CLASSES
Bardwell Park Infants
Beverly Hills North
Hurstville Grove Infants
Lucas Heights Community School