Hundreds converge to support ethics classes in NSW schools

From Byron Bay to Bungendore, Canowindra to the Central Coast, Milton to Manly, volunteers descended on the first Primary Ethics conference held at UNSW on Saturday.

Primary Ethics is a not-for-profit organisation that offers free training and curriculum to community members to deliver weekly ethics classes to children at public primary schools across the state.

Ethics classes are held at the same time as scripture and non-scripture, and give children from kindy to year 6 the opportunity to develop thinking, reasoning and decision-making skills to help them in all aspects of their life.

On Saturday, 350 teachers, coordinators and regional managers gathered to share experiences, network and develop skills in facilitating classes and managing programs that they will take back to the programs which are currently operating in 460 schools across the state and teaching ethics to 36,500 children.

“Developing an ethics program at your local school is a simple way to make a big difference in your community,” said Margaret Crowther, who teaches an ethics class and co-ordinates the program at Canowindra Public School in the Central West.

Ms Crowther works as a farmer in the small town, running organic grazing and permaculture businesses. She also coordinates the local Community Garden.


Margaret Crowther will take her insights back to Canowindra, where she volunteers.

“The ethics program definitely helps children (who will soon become adults) develop more practical thinking and discussion skills for our changing world,” Ms Crowther said.

“I am here today to meet more people who teach ethics and gain more of an insight to the importance, background and future from the people who develop the program.”

Keynote speaker and ethicist Dr Simon Longstaff spoke about the importance of children developing ethical decision-making skills to meet the increasing challenges and pressures that young people face today. He also noted that school ethics classes “are effectively about justice”, as the movement to establish Primary Ethics brought about the change to legislation and department of education policy which previously discriminated against children whose parents had opted them out of scripture.

Primary Ethics curriculum author Dr Sue Knight spoke to delegates about how the curriculum has been structured to support children to think deeply and well about ethical issues.

Master of Ceremonies was journalist and presenter Hugh Riminton, himself a seasoned ethics teacher at his children’s inner city school.

An afternoon session was designed to collate experiences from the different regions and seek input for strategies in overcoming the challenges the program faces due to the current complex enrolment process designed by the department of education, as well as exploring opportunities to broaden the organisation’s scope.

“I have been to many, many conferences and organised quite a few as well, during my over 30 years in the Information Technology industry and this one rates right up there with the best, and it’s a short list,” said Imogen Boas, who teaches ethics at Manly Village and Harbord Public Schools on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

“It was a most enjoyable, well organised, interesting and inspiring event that made us all feel good about teaching ethics and why we are doing it.”

“I go to teach my year 4s and year 2s  today with a renewed sense of focus and some great new classroom management techniques,” Ms Boas said.

Primary Ethics was established in 2010 and its 2500 current volunteers deliver weekly ethics classes to 36,500 Australian children, making it the largest grassroots ethics education program in the world.


Media enquiries:

Heidi McElnea, Communications Manager, Primary Ethics

02 8068 7752 or 0420 514 653

About Primary Ethics:

  • Established in 2010 at the request of the NSW Government
  • Comprehensive volunteer teacher training program
  • Structured curriculum designed for kindy to year 6
  • Currently 2500 well trained community volunteers deliver ethics classes in 460 schools.
  • Classes held during the Special Religious Education/ Special Education in Ethics timeslot
  • Children from any religious background, or from none at all, are invited to participate
  • Children learn how to think for themselves, acquiring analytical and communication skills that will be of lifelong benefit to them, in both their public and private lives