Ethics in Schools

Teaching AusVELS’ General Capabilities: 1. Ethical Understanding

We are an association of teachers and philosophers with a vision! We intend to establish educational centres, named “VAPS Capability Hubs”, to support the introduction of AusVELS’ General Capabilities across Learning Areas and throughout the Victorian community.

Our initial focus is on the Ethical Understanding domain:

  • Understanding ethical concepts and Issues
  • Exploring values, rights and responsibilities
  • Reasoning in decision making and actions

Government educational policies, such as POLT and The Melbourne Declaration, consistently recognize that successful learning critically depends on the “quality of teaching”, second only to “a student’s socioeconomic status“ (see Gonski report).  These ideas are vital for successful delivery of the latest iteration of AusVELS.

So, in order to support the realization of this important educational initiative in Victoria, the Victorian Association for Philosophy in Schools (VAPS)will establish four strategically placed Hubs, initially to develop and deliver our learning and teaching Ethical Understanding resources, including Tool-Kits, Professional Development Workshops, and Guides for use in Public Spaces. In following years we will develop similar resources to support the three outstanding Capabilities.

These resources will be informed by VAPS expertise in the Philosophy for Children (P4C) approach to teaching ethics, and will be collaboratively developed with Pre-service to Lead Teachers, and public Education Officers.  More information avaiable here soon:

Values Education Program

The Australian Government website Values Education for Australian Schooling sets out government-funded initiatives to support values education in Australian schools. It also provides curriculum and professional learning resources and practical suggestions for implementing values education, including case studies; teaching and learning activities; reviews of classroom resources; and current research.

Alternatives to Special Religious Instruction in Victorian schools

“The Education Department [is] changing controversial guidelines so that students who opt out of the classes must now be given meaningful activities. The new policy says principals must ensure students who do not attend are appropriately supervised by teachers and engaged in “positive, independent learning such as self-study”. It says this could include revision, community service, peer mentoring, participation in clubs or instruction in areas outside the core curriculum.” (For further detail, see Jewel Topsfield’s article in The Age, 26/08/2011.)

VAPS notes that this development may ease the way for Ethics classes – or, more broadly, Philosophy classes – to be introduced into schools in Victoria. If you are interested in learning more about this, or getting involved, please

Ethics complement to Special Religious Education in NSW schools

Ethics classes began in numerous NSW public schools after a favourable independent report on the ten week trial in ten schools.

You can read a related news report from the ABC’s Bronwyn Herbert.

Get involved

Primary Ethics is an organisation founded by the St James Ethics Centre to develop and deliver philosophical ethics education for children in NSW schools. The organisation develops an engaging, age-appropriate curriculum and accompanying learning and teaching materials, and it delivers ethics education to children free of charge via a network of specially trained volunteers.

parents4ethics is a parent driven website dedicated to giving our primary school children a worthwhile alternative to Special Religious Education (SRE). The website includes an online form that you can use to provide the Department of Education and Training with feedback about the final report on the ethics trail in NSW schools.

Background information

Several years ago, with community support, the St James Ethics Centre proposed a pilot project to test the concept of offering an ethics-based complement to scripture for students in NSW schools. Together with the NSW Federation of P & C Associations, the St James Ethics Centre presents a helpful website about the initiative.

In 2009 an ethics curriculum was presented to both the then Premier of NSW, Nathan Rees and the Education Minister of the NSW Department of Education, Verity Firth, who approved the proposal to conduct a pilot program for an ethics–based complement to scripture in 10 primary schools.

The pilot curriculum was written by Professor Phillip Cam from the University of New South Wales, an international expert in the teaching of ethics and philosophy to children. Thirty-three volunteers from within each school community were recruited and trained as ethics teachers. The program raised issues that relate to the everyday life of students, as well as focusing on wider social and environmental concerns and traditional ethical subject matter. They include fairness, lying, ethical principles, graffiti, the treatment of animals, intervening in nature, virtues and vices, children’s rights and what it takes to live a good life.

The pilot was designed to engage students in ethical inquiry rather than to offer them ethical instruction. Students explored ethical issues through dialogue and discussion. The course promoted a thoughtful approach to moral decision-making, including being collaborative rather than combative, being prepared to listen to someone who takes a different point of view, being reasonable with others in dealing with differences and disagreements, and being prepared to acknowledge appropriate criteria in making and criticising ethical judgments.

The pilot was evaluated by an independent assessor, Dr Sue Knight. Her final Report into NSW School Ethics Trial is now available online at It provides a description and evaluation of the course and examines the debate that arose over scripture and ethics classes in schools as a result of this trial.

More information about the Ethics Pilot is available in the St James Ethics Centre’s responses to frequently asked questions about the initiative.

You can download the ABC Radio National podcast Ethics in the classroom: an alternative to scripture and non-scripture classes? which was broadcast on the Philosopher’s Zone on 1/5/2010. In this program, Alan Saunders interviews Philip Cam (Associate Professor, School of History and Philosophy, University of NSW) and Neil Ormerod (Professor of Theology, Australian Catholic University).

Further, this transcript records an interesting conversation between Jeremy Halcrow of Sydney Anglicans and Simon Longstaff of the St. James Ethics Centre, concerning objections to the Ethics Pilot from Christian groups.

Who we are

VAPS promotes critical and creative thinking among young people.

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Supporting teachers in fostering the intellectual and social skills that enable students to think philosophically.

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