Parents have long debated the merits of whether their children should have to attend scripture classes at public schools.
But not all NSW schools offer ethics classes, so those children not enrolled in scripture often have to undertake other activities such as individual study.
In a 2012 parliamentary inquiry into ethics classes, one witness suggested students study instead all faiths in a class on comparative religion.
Catherine Byrne, who at the time was a specialist in religious education at Macquarie University, suggested combining traditional scripture classes with ethics classes—to create one, compulsory course that studies all religions.
But six years later, many parents told the Mercury they just wanted a “visible choice”.
Ethics classes are offered but in 2015 the Coalition government changed the enrolment form and removed the ethics option.
This change occurred despite a $300,000 review of special religious education and ethics classes in schools, recommending ethics classes should be retained as an option for students who do not want to take part in special religious education.
NSW Labor has announced that should it win government, it will reinstate the ethics option on public school enrolment forms.
NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley said the government effectively hid options from parents – and requires them to take a number of steps to find out about the availability of Special Ethics in Education classes at the school.
“Students and parents should be able to freely choose whether to enrol in scripture or ethics classes, or none. It is not a matter for government...,” Mr Foley said.
“The scripture option will still be on the form, alongside the ethics option. This will provide parents and families with a clear choice.”
Shadow Education Minister Jihad Dib said that at present principals do not have to inform parents about ethics classes until the parent has “twice” returned paperwork rejecting scripture lessons for their child.
“It’s a very simple thing to do – go back to the form that was in use ….and allow parents to just tick the box, without the need to write additional letters – or creating more confusion.”