Teachers' Christian Fellowship of NSW
Article :  Values: At Last!
On Thursday 25 March the Hon Andrew Refshauge, Minister for Education and Training launched a Ministerial Statement The Values of NSW Public Schools, and copies with a Memorandum from the Director General of Education and Training were emailed to schools and posted on the Department’s internet sites.

The document: The Values of NSW Public Schools

The document can be best summarised as being a holistic approach to values education which goes further than any previous statement in prescribing nine actual values as underpinning the work of teachers in classrooms and school communities. The statement recognises that values education has already occurred even when some people think it has not, and that values, learnt predominantly in the home, can be moulded by schools. It acknowledges the expectation of the community about public schools teaching values and modelling them. The approach to classroom practice is also in line with research and literature in values education recognising that core community values need to be taught explicitly, including through the curriculum, and that in areas of social issues and political concerns students need opportunities to explore the range of values that are being expressed.

The Core Values- Integrity, Excellence, Respect, Responsibility, Cooperation, Care, Participation, Fairness and Democracy -  sit comfortably with Christian values and Christians should feel included in this Statement, especially where it recognises that these core values are common to a range of secular and religious world-views.

TCFNSW and the Statement

TCFNSW has always supported a view that values affect everything that happens in the school community. It is for this reason that TCFNSW has historically pressured the Government to make clear its position on values. For Christians in public schools it’s a matter of having a suitable context to respond to Christ’s words to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” In recent years Christians have felt excluded as the lack of policy and the dominance of secular views, that did not include religion, were prevalent in parts of the Department and some of its schools. Certainly this alienation was felt by many Christian parents who for a variety of reasons moved their children to emerging “Christian” and church schools.

Now under this policy statement, Christian teachers in public schools and parents generally should feel that at least a suitable values framework exists for public schools that can accommodate their religious commitment.

Potential criticism

The support for this statement across the public education sector is almost unprecedented – The NSW Public Education Council, The NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations, the NSW Teachers Federation, the Primary Principals’ Association and the Secondary Principals’ Council. However, there will be some Christians who will want more explicitly Christian statements to recognise its influence on the development of education in NSW. While understanding this viewpoint, I do not believe that it is a way forward for Christians or public education. The Australian community is both multicultural and increasingly multi-faith and while recognising the Christian origins of many of our institutions, political frameworks and laws, an inclusive society and public education system must accommodate all. One perspective on The Values of NSW Public Schools is that it does include Christians and people of other faith and is not purely a secular statement were secular in some people’s minds means non-religious. This matter is well protected by the Education Act 1990, which defines secular as including general religious education and provides for special religious education.

A further objection might be the omission of the term spiritual. Again, as a purely personal observation, I am pleased that this term does not appear even though it is in the National Goals of Schooling. While the Christian community understands spiritual as pertaining to the Holy Spirit, the wider community has many, varied and confused ideas on this matter. The general interest in “new age” and “spiritual” matters devalues, for Christians, any inclusion of “spiritual” in public education documents. While many Christians have fought for its inclusion in national education document I believe it is time to let go. Spiritual will only ever be understood when individuals come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and saviour and recognise the work of the Spirit in their lives. While I don’t approve of a secular world taking over words that have special meaning for Christians, the advent of new age philosophies and interest in the occult makes me want to disassociate myself from such matters. In public education documents, where spiritual can mean anything to anyone, I am more than happy to let it go. Such an omission does not deny the obvious, that there is a spiritual dimension to human existence.

Where to now?

As important as it no doubt is, the dissemination of a suitable policy statement is only the first step. Supporting the policy to sustain practice will take considerable support from leaders across the Department. The 1989 statement, The Values We Teach, suffered from a lack of follow-up support on how schools could use that document to build on current practice and improve public education including being held accountable for implementation.

In relation to the 2004 Statement, teachers will need curriculum related support to make the core values more explicit within their classrooms. Schools will need support and examples about how the core values can be used to plan, implement and evaluate school policies, procedures and relationships. For the core values to permeate public education, the system will need accountability mechanisms requiring the inclusion of core values into each area of annual school plans and regional and directorate plans. As the statement says: The demonstration of these values in all areas of public education is both the aim and a measure of success for public schools. 

If properly supported, The Values of NSW Public Schools has the potential to improve all areas of the Department. When implemented, the Department can further assure the community that, in addition to excellence in learning, its schools really care about each student and school community irrespective of their cultural, religious or ethnic background or their intellectual, sporting or creative abilities.

John Gore

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