Food for thought

New bite-sized ethical dilemmas for children at home

The not-for-profit organisation that runs ethics classes in NSW schools has developed a selection of ethics exercises, called Bites, for children to participate in at home. Each week in term 2 Primary Ethics will upload two new Bites for children; one designed for students from kindergarten to year 2, and another for those in years 3 – 6.

Primary Ethics CEO Evan Hannah says the lessons will help provide continuity for students who take ethics classes.

“Around 45,000 students in NSW have to miss out on their usual ethics classes for some weeks yet, so we’ve put together these lessons to help children to keep exercising their questioning skills until their usual volunteer teacher can join them in classes at school,” he said.

“These activities to help children with their thinking and reasoning have a role to play in helping them to process the current changes that we are all experiencing due to the impact of COVID 19,” Evan added.

They will also introduce a number of new students to the practical study of philosophical ethics.

“Primary Ethics Bites will be available for every child and their family, and like our school-based program, it will be free of charge. We hope the Bites provoke some deep thinking around the dinner table.”

Each Bite provides an ethical dilemma presented in audio or audio visual format along with a written version. Children are encouraged to read, watch or listen to the stories which provide a context for the dilemma, and ponder the questions provided. Siblings and others in the household are encouraged to participate, too.

“These fun Bites use engaging stories to encourage the use of questions and considering alternative views to help build skills in critical thinking and ethical reasoning. At schools we use a ‘community of inquiry’ approach, and Bites are written to extend that into home-based lessons.”

“We’re grateful for the assistance of Primary Ethics Volunteers who, along with their children, have offered to voice the various parts in our stories and provide a range of diverse views for the discussion aspect of the recordings,” Evan said.

The first four Bites are available to download in audio, audio/visual or print format from

Facebook bite 4

Ethics classes coming to Batemans Bay

Three volunteers for Batemans Bay Public School were among 12 who attended ethics teacher training held at Narooma over the weekend.

It was great to meet other like-minded and enthusiastic people,” said Heidi Thomson, who has put up her hand to coordinate the program at her children’s school next year.

Primary Ethics is a not-for-profit organisation that works with the Department of Education to offer discussion-based classes to those students who have opted out of weekly religious education classes. There are currently 500 primary schools in NSW that offer the program with the help of trained volunteers like Ms Thomson.

“The program gives students skills and practice in thinking about issues for themselves and engaging in thoughtful conversations on a huge range of topics,” Ms Thomson added.

“The teaching techniques will be useful not just in ethics classes but inmy work and family too,” she added.

Christine May from South Durras also attended the training and plans to facilitate an ethics class at Batemans Bay Public School next year.

“When I was involved with the NSW Federation P&C Associations 15 years ago we initiated discussions with NSW Department Education about the introduction of ethics classes and it’s great to now be involved on a practical level in teaching.” Ms May said.

“Ethics classes are a chance for children to learn to talk and listen to each other respectfully, even when they have quite different views. And they can learn to work together to make logical or well-reasoned decisions rather than just go along with something because of peer pressure,” she said.

Other attendees at the training came from Gerringong, Bermagui, Narooma and Pambula.

For more information about the program or becoming a volunteer visit or email

Narooma Training_16_17 November_2019

Photo (clockwise from left):
Diana Zickefoose (Surfside), Justina Legoe (Bermagui), Heidi Thomson (Long Beach), Robyn Koller (Gerringong) and Christine May (South Durras) at ethics teacher training on the weekend.

Conference 2019: Reflecting on past challenges, planning for the future

As the world grapples with major economic, political and environmental change, our hope for the future lay in the ability of our emerging leaders to make well-reasoned decisions on issues with far-reaching consequences. This was the message Dr Simon Longstaff of the Ethics Centre had for the 160 attendees at Primary Ethics State Conference held on Saturday October 26.

On a personal level, we all benefit from the ability to think critically and to reason. Education in ethics is crucial in helping us, regardless of our age or stage in life, be better equipped to tackle the various challenges we face.

Not-for-profit group Primary Ethics’ second state conference was generously hosted by Western Sydney University in Parramatta. Ethics volunteers from around the state converged to participate in a day of ideas about the work they are engaged in and the path that lay ahead.

Keynote speaker Verity Firth, head of UTS Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion and former Minister for Education, revisited the challenges leading up to achieving legislative change in 2010 that permitted ethics classes to be delivered in NSW public schools alongside special religious education classes. Almost 10 years later, Primary Ethics represents the largest ethics education movement in Australia.

So where to now? Renee Bilston from Farmhouse Montessori spoke about the benefits of ethics classes to her school under the recent partnership with Primary Ethics. Primary Ethics’ Elizabeth Allen spoke of the workplace volunteering project that has seen 14 UNSW staff trained and supported to deliver ethics classes in schools near the university’s Randwick campus, not simply to engage and contribute to local community, but as a mechanism for staff wellbeing and meaning.

Meaning was a theme developed by Mitra Gusheh, Executive Manager, Social Impact at UTS in her presentation of the study by Dr Gianni Zappalà on the outcomes of volunteering in the lives of Primary Ethics volunteers.

Curriculum author Dr Sue Knight and philosopher Kelby Mason discussed the philosophical framework behind the Primary Ethics curriculum, with Classroom Support Manager Coral Sturgess and Trainer Sophie Patterson exploring implementation of the program in the classroom and its underpinning of 21st century skills.

The value of applied ethics was reflected upon in a lunchtime screening of The Final Quarter and a talk by 13-year-old Belle, who explained how ethics classes had helped her to have conversations with people with differing views on complex topics such as climate change.

In 2019, 45,000 children participated in weekly ethics classes in 500 schools across the state thanks to the contributions by donors and a team of 2800 trained volunteers.
For more information on the program and volunteering opportunities visit

Verity Firth conference presentation

Keynote speaker Verity Firth

Complaint demonstrates overall success of ethics program

It takes a village to raise a child – and many of those who enrich our children’s lives do so as volunteers.

P&C committees, canteen, reading groups, garden club, uniform shop, sport coaches, Scouts, Guides, playgroups – volunteers make a huge contribution to children’s lives and are being celebrated in Volunteer of the Year Award ceremonies held this month around the state.

“Yes we are volunteers, but we take this role very seriously,” said Suzan Fayle, who has facilitated ethics classes for the past six years at Orange Grove Public School.

Ms Fayle is one of 2800 Primary Ethics volunteers who help 45,000 students each week to think for themselves and develop the skills to disagree respectfully with others. Lessons based on philosophical ethics give children skills in critical thinking and ethical reasoning.

The children who complained about the teacher at Dulwich Hill Public School (“Ethics teacher stood down for saying Stolen Generations due to bad parents”, Sydney Morning Herald, September 9) used just those skills, and should be commended. Continue reading

The Diversity Project

Primary Ethics has embarked on a project to ensure that our curriculum is inclusive of the diversity in our target audience – NSW school students.

In order to make sound, best-practice adjustments, we are undertaking a project with the following phases:

Phase 1 Research best-practice and scope the diversity review.
This phase is now complete.

Phase 2 Review lesson materials to gain a full understanding of current state of curriculum.
This phase is now underway and we’re asking for assistance.

Phase 3 Determine appropriate changes and update lesson materials.
This will commence when Phase 2 has been completed.

We want to incorporate best-practice inclusion and representation into our lessons and we plan to achieve this by modifying existing lessons where required, altering the characters and stories to provide positive diverse representation both within each topic and across the full curriculum.

A review of academic literature as part of Phase 1 shows that it is appropriate to consider Primary Ethics curriculum as children’s literature in the context of child development. It also shows the curriculum to be a legitimate and appropriate mechanism through which to represent diversity to primary school-aged children. Continue reading

Why pilot ethics classes for year 7 students?

High schoolPrimary Ethics is the single approved provider of special education in ethics (SEE) to NSW Department of Education public schools.

While our primary focus is primary schools, we’ve fielded many requests over the years from high school principals, parents and students themselves, who have sought a secular alternative to Special Religious Education that helps young people to make sense of the world. Requests also came from former minister and shadow In those early years, it was not possible for us to act on those requests.

2020 will mark the 10th anniversary of Primary Ethics’ establishment, and we’re pleased that next year we will be able to offer high school communities the opportunity to participate in a pilot ethics program for year 7 students.

An ethics program for year 7 students will:

  • support students to develop skills in critical thinking, respectful discussion and ethical reasoning – skills which are transferable to the key learning areas of the secondary curriculum
  • support students in making the transition from primary to secondary school,
  • assist with development of interpersonal and decision-making skills as well as the consideration of ethical dilemmas that can loom large in the adolescence years
  • give choice to families by providing a high quality and valued secular alternative to SRE
  • promote lifelong interest and learning through providing a foundation in philosophical ethics that may assist students to undertake philosophy as a secondary elective or as part of a tertiary course of study

Continue reading

Meet some Primary Ethics volunteers

Newcastle volunteers help shape the future of ethics education

How do we help children make wise decisions in their lives today, while equipping them to be responsible leaders for tomorrow? That was one of the questions posed at the Primary Ethics conference held at the University of Newcastle on Saturday, where 60 volunteers met to workshop strategies for making ethics education available to more students in local primary schools.

Another focus of the day was to support volunteers’ professional development in their roles as facilitators and organisers of ethics classes.

Volunteers came from right across Greater Newcastle, the Central Coast, Taree and as far afield as Coffs Harbour. Some are parents, grandparents or carers of primary school aged children. Others are community-minded volunteers who have a love of learning and wish to make a big impact with an hour or two they have available to volunteer each week. Continue reading

New ethics classes in the Hunter

Students at Morpeth and Hinton Public Schools are attending ethics classes for the first time due to the efforts of parents and community members and the support of the school.

The Primary Ethics program has been running at other Maitland area schools such as Dungog and Tenambit since 2015.

Designed for primary school aged children, the classes give children a chance to develop skills in critical thinking and in making well-reasoned decisions. Volunteers are trained as ethics teachers and they facilitate the discussion using the Primary Ethics curriculum. The next two day training workshop will be held in Newcastle on April 7 and 8.

“My kids really enjoyed their first ethics class at Hinton,” said Holly Moore, mother of Violet, 9 and Banjo, 11 who were among those to take the classes for the first time this term.
Continue reading

Professor Dame Marie Bashir a guest of honour at Primary Ethics class

Professor Dame Marie Bashir is indefatigable in her grassroots support of Australian communities and last Wednesday, March 7, her attention was on ethics classes in public schools.

Despite the loss of her husband Sir Nicholas Shehadie in recent weeks, Professor Bashir continues to dedicate an incredible amount of energy and time to supporting communities build on essential areas as education, health and international relations.

Professor Bashir joined former NSW Premier Nick Greiner and his partner Carolyn Fletcher to participate in an ethics class at Marie Bashir Public School. Continue reading

Primary Ethics volunteers recognised at State Reception

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Almost 100 of Primary Ethics’ longest serving volunteers were recognised for their service to community at Government House Sydney earlier this month.

On Thursday, February 8 His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d), Governor of New South Wales and Mrs Linda Hurley hosted the reception for volunteers, some of whom travelled from across the state to attend.

In his address, the Governor extended his thanks to those invited for donating their time to teaching ethics to the children of NSW.

Continue reading