Over recent months, secular ethics classes in NSW primary schools have been in the media, with a Parliamentary Inquiry into the subject.
The outcome of the Inquiry was that Ethics classes will continue to expand. The second stage of Ethics classes is about to be implemented with stage 2 (Years 3 and 4) being included in the program for second semester this year.
This may affect number of children attending Special Religious Education (SRE) in these years, so SRE Co-ordinators would be well advised to check with school principals as to whether to order a different number of books, etc.
The effect of Ethics classes on SRE seems to have been varied, and most of the evidence at this stage is anecdotal.
At one school, there seemed to be little impact on Years 5 and 6 where Ethics had been introduced, however enrolments in Kindergarten SRE classes dropped by 66% on the previous year.
Is this the effect of Ethics classes, or the impact of sustained negative media coverage on SRE over the past two years affecting parents choices? So far we don’t know.
At another local school, the SRE class for Year 6 reduced from 33 students to 15, with most children leaving to join the Ethics class.
It has been estimated that in the schools in the Newcastle area with Ethics classes, SRE classes for years 5 and 6 have reduced by about 20% on average. Most of the impacts on SRE being reported are negative, and have resulted in a reduced number of children attending Christian SRE classes. There is one exception where the number of students enrolling in SRE actually increased after Ethics classes were introduced!
It seems that many people are unaware of the significant areas of the SRE curriculum which focus on values and ethics. Over and over we hear positive reports from teachers, parents and students who see SRE as beneficial both to individual children and to the school community at large.