Changes to Safe Schools program welcomed

By Matthew Biddle

CHANGES to the controversial ‘Safe Schools’ program have been welcomed by Christian groups who have campaigned against the program for more than 18 months.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced on March 18 that the program would be available in secondary schools only; that parental consent will be required for children to participate in program lessons and activities; that some parts of the program will be rewritten; and that sexual and gender diversity advocacy and activism should not be part of the program.

Family Voice Australia and the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) were pleased with the changes, but said there were still problems with the program.

“An ideology that says someone’s gender is largely a social construct continues to be the underlying idea taught to children and that is something most parents would have issues with,” ACL managing director Lyle Shelton said.

“Gender specific speech should not be purged from our schools to suit an ideology. This has nothing to do with stopping bullying.

“Kids should not be confused with the prohibition of words like ‘he’ and ‘she’ or innocuous phrases like ‘ladies and gentlemen’ or ‘boys and girls’. This is ideological madness.”

The changes to the Safe Schools program came in response to an independent review of its content, undertaken by University of Western Australia academic Professor Bill Louden.

The review found that several resources contained within the program were not suitable for all children.

The review, however, did not examine the resources and materials recommended for use by the program. It consulted only five Victorian schools, and did not consult any parent groups.

After a briefing on the review, some 43 government backbenchers signed a letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull requesting the $8 million of Federal funding for the program be suspended pending a parliamentary inquiry.

Head of religious education and curriculum services for Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn Maree Williams said creating an environment free from bullying was a priority for Catholic schools, but not by using the Safe Schools program.

“The religious education and curriculum services team within Catholic Education has examined the Safe Schools Coalition’s material,” she said.

“The material viewed has not been deemed appropriate for use in our Archdiocesan schools.”

Ms Williams said the material goes beyond the purpose of the program, does not align with the Australian curriculum for Years 7 and 8, and is problematic in regards to age appropriateness.

“Catholic Education has strong programs in place with KidsMatter, MindMatters and School Wide Positive Behaviour Support and access to the Bullying No Way resources,” she said.

“It is very unlikely that the Safe Schools Coalition material will be implemented in our schools.”