NSW gives high marks to ethics classes
The NSW government is set to push ahead with the introduction of ethics classes in public schools next year, promising they are not intended to push out religious education.
Education Minister Verity Firth on Wednesday released a positive evaluation of the trial ethics classes, run over 10 weeks in 10 schools this year.
The government would seek public consultation before taking any decision to cabinet, but "for all intents and purposes" the classes would be introduced next year, she said.
Ms Firth said the ethics classes were not intended to replace scripture in schools but provide an alternative to parents whose children currently opt out of religious teaching.
"The right of special religious organisations to deliver scripture in our schools is absolutely not in doubt," she said.
"Scripture will always form a part of public education, and nothing about what we're doing changes that.
"This is about providing choice for parents who have already made the decision not to send their children to scripture, to have a meaningful alternative for their child."
Like scripture classes, the ethics classes would be voluntary, and schools would be left to decide whether to provide them, she said.
St James Ethics Centre, which helped organise the ethics pilot and would run the new ethics program, welcomed news the classes could become a permanent feature of the state school system.
Dr Simon Longstaff, executive director of the St James Ethics Centre, said the move was not an attempt to weaken religion or eliminate special religious education (SRE) from schools.
"We believe that offering something meaningful for all students will strengthen public support for the period allocated to SRE each week," he said in a statement on Wednesday.
Scripture class providers will be offered ethics course material to use in their course as they see fit, Dr Longstaff added.
"Providing faith-based groups access to course material is intended by us to help ensure that no child is drawn away from scripture simply to explore material provided in the ethics course," he said.
Parents group, parents4ethics, said the trial showed religious education and ethics classes could co-exist.
"The government now has no choice but to take the final step and allow ethics classes to be available in primary schools from the start of the new school year," parents4ethics spokesperson David Hill said.
"Only when they do this can it be considered that all students are treated equally in our schools."
Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell has previously said he won't commit to offering ethics classes as an alternative to religious education in state schools if the coalition wins the next election.
A spokesman for Mr O'Farrell on Wednesday said he would consider the report.
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) expressed concern that students would be forced to choose between scripture and ethics classes.
"We are not against the introduction of ethics classes, but we are very concerned that the classes are to be run in direct competition with SRE classes - meaning students have to choose between the two and SRE students will be forced to forgo ethics teaching," ACL NSW Director David Hutt said.
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