Ethics classes for secondary students

11 March 2020

Primary 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. In those early years, it was not possible for us to act on those requests.

2020 will mark the 10th anniversary of Primary Ethics and we’re pleased that in 2021 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

By undertaking a pilot program for year 7 students in a small number of willing high schools, we expect to gain important insights into the secondary school learning environment. In particular, the pilot’s purpose is to assess variations in delivery at secondary schools, such as length or frequency of lessons, and also to ensure the additional training ethics teachers will receive is best practice for managing a community of inquiry with students aged 12 and 13. The pilot will focus on Year 7, but once established, the secondary program will be made available for stage 4 (both years 7 and 8) students.

The pilot program, and any subsequent classes that are delivered after its review, would only be run in high schools where there is an existing weekly or fortnightly special religious education (SRE) program.

The pilot will only be run in schools where there is:

  1. school support for SRE/SEE
  2. family support for SRE/SEE
  3. trained volunteers available to facilitate the discussion-based classes

Current legislation gives parents of all NSW public school students the right to seek ethics classes for their children, and it would be unjust to deny parents the choice of SEE while SRE is present. In high schools where religious education is woven into the fabric of the school community, we cannot sit on our hands waiting for a change in legislation that may never come. There is an opportunity to provide valuable education for students and Primary Ethics is dedicated to supporting parent choice wherever possible.

If, during the course of the pilot program or subsequent delivery of ethics classes, there is legislative or policy change around the inclusion of SRE/SEE in the secondary curriculum, we would negotiate with individual schools and the Department of Education on an outcome that best meets the needs of the students and considers the needs of the school community and Primary Ethics volunteers.

We are currently seeking expressions of interest from high school staff, parents/carers of students who will be in year 7 in 2021 and existing or previous volunteer ethics teachers who are interested in participating in the year 7 pilot program.

Expressions of interest may be submitted here. 

Thank you,

The Primary Ethics team.