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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

School chaplains and trivia nights

Posted by Christopher Owen on August 7, 2013

6th August 2013

Media Release

Schools should not be holding trivia nights to raise funds for school chaplains, according to Secular Party spokesperson, Greg Plier. “A public and supposedly secular school has decided that the best way to care for their students is to employ religious chaplains,” said Mr Plier. “Frankston High School has just held a trivia night to raise money. Why not do that to better resource their Student Wellbeing Team with properly qualified counsellors or welfare officers?” Mr Plier stated that the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program (NSCSWP), despite the name change, is virtually exclusively for the employment of chaplains by church-based providers.  “Frankston High School and state schools throughout Australia educate many children from families that are of religious minorities and from families that have no religion,” he said, “yet the vast majority of chaplains and religious providers are Christian.  The NSCSWP direction that school chaplains are not to preach, proselytise, evangelise their faith, or promote a particular religious belief is completely at odds  with the requirement that they must be endorsed by a recognised or accepted religious institution.”

He emphasised that chaplains and evangelical organisations such as ACCESS Ministries have no place in Australia’s secular inclusive public school system. “The Federal Government and schools should not be in the business of advancing religion,” said Mr Plier. “Clearly, the employment of chaplains is against the secular principle of separation of church and state.”

Mr Plier concluded with a reference to the Secular Party’s policy that the National Schools Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program be replaced with a single program supporting only qualified counsellors and student welfare officers in schools.

Greg Plier
Victorian Delegate
Secular Party of Australia
0402 355 508


Posted in Chaplains, Education, Media Releases, NSCP, Secular | Leave a Comment »

Public education in Australia

Posted by Secular on January 29, 2013

by Hilton Travis

Despite expert opinion in the Gonski report, both ‘sides’ of government seem intent on abandoning Australia’s public eduction system. As the school year commences, bringing no better news for the majority of Australian children, Secular Party member Hilton Travis provides us with an overview of the state vs. private controversy in Australia, and what you can do about it.

Link to article published on Hilton’s blog, ‘The Outspoken Wookie’, 29th January 2013.

© The Secular Party of Australia Inc., 2011. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author and from the Secular Party of Australia is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and to this blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Commentary funding, External publications | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Gonski and the Catholic education authorities

Posted by Secular on December 7, 2012

Not 100% in line with our policies, but nevertheless an article offering some very interesting insights into the accountability of the funding arrangements with Catholic education authorities (or rather, lack thereof). Nicholas Reece finds that Catholic school funding is not based on need, with the elite schools getting the lion’s share, and as for attempts to make the system accountable: ‘. . . a recent review of these elite Catholic schools by former Productivity Commission economist and public education advocate Trevor Cobbold found the claims by the Catholic education authorities were “misleading and untrue”.’

Please also refer to our policy on education funding.

Posted in Commentary funding | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Opting out of religion only way in to ethics

Posted by Secular on December 5, 2012

NSW: With each success in the fight for ethics classes in public schools, the O’Farrell government dreams up a new impediment. Here’s the latest: ‘Parents will not be told of the availability of ethics classes in their school until after they have opted out of special religious education, or scripture, under changes to be adopted by the state government.’ That’s right — not only will you have to opt out of SRE, but the fact that an alternative exists will be a deep, dark secret.

Well, I guess we should all do our best to shout the news from the rooftops!

Posted in Commentary ethics classes | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The future of public education — look to Australia’s past

Posted by Secular on December 5, 2012

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby laments the dismantling of an education system that was always meant to be ‘free, compulsory and secular’.

Posted in Commentary funding | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The god intrusion . . . into our schools

Posted by Secular on November 25, 2012

Journalist and ex-teacher Stephen Downes asks why children are subjected to Christian indoctrination in public schools, “tantamount to indoctrination . . . with little or no semblance to good teaching”.

This article is specific to Victoria, but this nonsense is going on in other states too.

Posted in Commentary ethics classes | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

High Court decision on school chaplains

Posted by Secular on November 17, 2012

20 June 2012

Media Release

Governments should not promote religions in the minds of children at taxpayer expense. The Secular Party thus welcomes the finding of High Court that the Commonwealth’s funding of the National Schools Chaplaincy Program is unconstitutional.

The ruling was based on Section 61 of the constitution which requires that such expenditure be authorised by legislation. Being a Chaplain requires passing a religious test, and Section 116 requires that there be no religious test for public office. Chaplains were not found to be employees of the Commonwealth, so these grounds were dismissed.

However, if the funding NSCP funding was properly legislated, as now required under S61, then there would be increased grounds for regarding Chaplains as employees, hence such funding may well then be unconstitutional under Section 116.

Whether in technical breach of the constitution or not, the NSCP was certainly against the intention of the constitution, and against the secular principle of “separation of church and state”. This principle is being violated, just at the time we need it more than ever.

Religions are not only divisive and conflictual. They lack basis in evidence. Governments should be in the business of promoting harmony through reason and evidence-based beliefs. The NSCP was doing the exact opposite. Chaplains should now be replaced by qualified counsellors and youth workers.

© The Secular Party of Australia Inc., 2011. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author and from the Secular Party of Australia is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and to this blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Media Releases, NSCP | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The fight for ethics classes in schools

Posted by Secular on July 24, 2011

by John August

It has been a long, uphill battle getting ethics classes into NSW state schools as an alternative to religious education. John August, founding member of the Secular Party, describes the situation as it stands today. We urge all members and supporters to take an active interest in this topic, since the program currently faces renewed attacks by Fred Nile and the Christian Democrats.

In New South Wales, we’ve had volunteer ethics education in several schools for a while now, in contrast to the Victorian push to modify access to SRI (Special Religious Instruction) in schools. I wish Victorians all the best here, but at the same time I celebrate what’s been done in NSW.

The NSW push originated with the NSW Federation of Parents and Citizen’s Groups, with a curriculum developed by the St. James Ethics Centre. It took advantage of an opportunity — the one-hour time slot that was provided by students who did not do SRE (Special Religious Education, the NSW equivalent of Victoria’s SRI). Previously obliged to twiddle their thumbs, now students have a worthwhile and interesting alternative.

Of course, you can argue there’s no place for SRE in public schools at all, that it violates the principle of separation of Church and State. In NSW, SRE was the result of an 1860s deal by Henry Parkes when the State took on responsibility for teaching, introducing “free compulsory secular education”. The churches negotiated an agreement that visiting church representatives could teach one period of religion at the school. In any case, we’re talking about a deal done about 150 years ago to which the Church is still trying to bind us — one we should not recognise.

It’s a good argument, and if people can run it, great. Regardless, ethics as an alternative to SRE does a great deal of good if SRE persists. It undermines the exceptionalist argument that Churches have previously been able to run with, and reminds parents that they have a choice.

Just as the Victorian initiative stirred up Christians, so too has the NSW initiative. Groups like “Save Our Scripture” were lobbying before the last state election. Their claims vary from us “grabbing” students from them, when in fact participation in SRE is presumed until parents “opt out”. They say that providing ethics education forces students to choose between religious and ethics education; however, the teaching of any ethics education has been a push from non-believers who want an alternate. Prior to this initiative, the silence from believers pushing for ethics education was deafening.

Then there’s the claim that believers have a monopoly on ethics, or that the ethics education is “indoctrinating” students in atheism / humanism. The curriculum, as I understand it, does not mention God — you don’t need to mention God either way to talk about ethics, much as the believers would think otherwise. And as if SRE was never a vehicle for indoctrination. The point is, regardless of the initiative, Christians will line up against it (there are some notable exceptions, such as the Uniting Church). It shines a light on their contradictions, something that is always useful.

Having said that, Christians — or believers of any faith — are free to believe what they want. I’ve no problems with that. Ideally, that should be something that informs their private lives, not something that comes to school. If they’re going to bring it to school, this means other life stances should be able to do the same.

Ethics and Philosophy could in fact be introduced as part of the curricula, as part of the “Human Society and the Environment” component, where it could also be taught professionally by teachers. However, trying to wedge additional material into an already full syllabus is fraught with difficulty. Furthermore, schools are already burdened with modules looking at Citizenship, Drug Education and Traffic Safety amongst others — all good-sounding ideas, but wedged in without follow-through in providing the resources to pass on a growing number of responsibilities. Using volunteer ethics teachers as an alternative to SRE teachers is in fact a lot easier than trying to get something else into an already overloaded syllabus. Certainly, in an ideal world, it would be a nice thing to have.

The experience of being a volunteer teacher of ethics can be as good for the teacher as the students. I know such volunteers who have had very positive experiences, and have taught at schools with waiting lists.

Volunteers have an important place in our society. There were the Olympic volunteers. Then there’s the Rural Fire Service, and St. John’s Ambulance. I’d never be anxious about a St. John volunteer treating me. And they can play an important part in our schools. If we can find the money for professional teachers, all well and good, but it was always advantageous that the SRE program would not lean heavily on anyone’s budget. People were looking for enough things to disagree with anyway.

There’s a lot of politics in the background. We might struggle to find the money to fund ethics teachers, but it was never difficult to find money for the National School Chaplaincy Program. Just snap your fingers. Yes, if we could ever get to the same table, it wouldn’t hurt to fund ethics teaching professionally and on a large scale; but it’s better to get something than insist on perfection.

And while we’re not reaching every student in the state, the example of a few students at a few schools counts for a great deal, an example which will over time draw more people into its orbit. I hope for its growth, and I hope for its continued example. For those students and volunteer teachers involved in the program, it will make a difference. That’s something to celebrate.

John August is the Public Officer of the Secular Party of Australia. He is also President of the NSW Humanists, and convenes the Sydney Shove. He has given courses in science and physics at the WEA, has contributed to the Diffusion science program on radio 2SER, and has long-standing interests in religion, ethics and science.

© The Secular Party of Australia Inc., 2011. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author and from the Secular Party of Australia is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and to this blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Education, Ethics Classes, Secular | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Teaching our kids ethics, not dogma

Posted by Secular on July 4, 2011

by Ian Bryce

Secular groups in NSW have finally won the right to provide classes on ethics to schoolchildren, as an alternative to SRE (Special Religious Education). Secular Party Vice President, Ian Bryce, gives us the background on the program and writes about his personal experiences as a volunteer instructor.

The teaching of ethics in NSW primary schools is now well underway with involvement from the Secular Party, and is shaping up as a major turning point in making Australian public education secular.

For many decades, public primary schools in most states have had one period per week designated for Special Religious Education (SRE). As I understand it, this slot has been available only to organized religions, which are defined as having a supernatural belief – thus defeating efforts by humanist societies and others in various states to provide secular ethical training. Pupils opted out of SRE by their parents are kept idle for the period, on the grounds that any meaningful learning would discriminate against those in scripture class!

Enter the St James Ethics Centre (SJEC), which was established in 1989 by the St James Parish of the Anglican Church in NSW, to their great credit. SJEC remains funded but fully independent of the Church, receiving donations from sponsors including Macquarie Bank. Armed with curriculum material developed by Dr Philip Cam of UNSW (University of New South Wales), SJEC director Simon Longstaff and other lobbyists (after trying since 2002) persuaded the then NSW Labor government to allow a trial, involving ethics classes in 10 schools for 10 weeks during 2010.

However, Liberal opposition leader Barry O’Farrell initially said that when elected he would stop the classes.

The public debate at the time was very lively. The powerful Christian lobby argued that the ethics curriculum had not been properly scrutinized. My favourite was a response in the Herald in the following vein: Perhaps the Christians should introduce their own scenarios into SRE. A troubled schoolgirl approaches the Department of Community Services, claiming she was made pregnant by a ghost. Should they believe her? Discuss.

The trial was independently evaluated, and found to have very strong community support:

This was confirmed by public submissions, which included 530 in favour of the trial and 15 against. O’Farrell did a backflip and dropped his promise to stop the classes.

So legislation was passed, breaking the monopoly of religions on the SRE timeslot. This means that any public school able to obtain a teacher can now offer the subject alongside religious instruction (typically Anglican and Catholic). Parents can opt their children out of SRE and choose ethics as an alternative. SJEC spun off Primary Ethics (PE) to organize it and to accredit teachers.

Quite a number of SPA members and supporters have volunteered. Three were accepted and trained, and are now part way through the year. The education includes group discussion of typical scenarios, as may be seen on the PE website. Aimed at 10-year-olds, it is applied ethics, not theory – perhaps that would come should secondary classes eventuate.

With guidance, the children’s responses crystallize into universal moral rules, such as “tell the truth”, “do not steal” and “be fair to your friends”. They recognize shades of grey, and that sometimes two rules come into conflict. As I picture it, PE is designed to bring out the ethical behaviour built into all children by genes and memes, whereas in SRE classes some holy book and deity are invoked as the source of morality.

Unfortunately, Premier O’Farrell now owes some favours to Fred Nile of the Christian Democrats who is dead set against the ethics teaching, so the battle might not be over yet. Teachers closely follow the approved curriculum in order to minimize any objections by the religious lobby.

Meanwhile, demand for ethics classes is very strong and greatly exceeds supply. If you think you could be a teacher or co-ordinator, and can be available for an hour every week, I strongly encourage you to seek more information at No theoretical knowledge is required, just normal human values and a desire to shape the next generation.

Ian Bryce is an aerospace engineer and university lecturer. He has worked in space communications and with launch vehicles in Russia. He has been with Australian Skeptics for 30 years and is their Chief Investigator, specialising in bogus technical devices including free energy generators and sonic pool cleaners.

Ian is the Vice President of the Secular Party of Australia.

© The Secular Party of Australia Inc., 2011. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author and from the Secular Party of Australia is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and to this blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Education, Ethics Classes | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »