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Welcome to the August newsletter. I thought NAPLAN would be our lead focus for this issue of eNews, but the Same Se x Marriage (SSM) debate has ratchetted up at a mighty rate of knots.

Please give attention to the SSM statement from AACS. This statement might be useful for your newsletter. We wanted to provide a short, clear message that focussed on the needs of Christian schools and not something that presumed a particular viewpoint. Our key concern is the clash of rights. Both of the Paul Kelly and Frank Brennan articles are both worth reading.

I enjoy doing the reading and research for eNews each month, and seek to offer articles in a quick and digestible form for members. Thank you for giving time to reading this as I know how much comes in your into your inbox and across your desk. Enjoy the read.


Short Updates

  • If the SSM vote/survey/plebiscite survives the High Court challenge postal forms will be mailed out from September 12 and completed by November 7. Schools can get involved by encouraging parents to ensure that they are registered (by August 24) on the electoral role. They can go to the Australian Electoral Commission website if necessary. 
  • Four Year Terms – Back in late July there was a brief discussion between Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull about four year federal parliamentary terms. With the shortness of the electoral cycle and what is seen as one effective year of governing (1 = getting over the election; 2 = looking at policy and getting on with the job; 3 = preparing to get re-elected) a 4 year term should theoretically offer greater stability. AACS would encourage this discussion.
  • Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) released its new website on July 26. Its emphasis is focussed on assisting teachers in their professional learning to impact classroom learning with the goal of improving student outcomes. There is continued work on the leadership development framework.
  • The newest version of the Australian Curriculum 8.3, has replaced 7.5 (which will still be available until the end of the year).
  • The Gonski 2.0 Review deadline is now March 2018. What creative accountability mechanisms will this review find? The Commonwealth is looking for more ‘bang for its buck’ from the states. One presumes there will be a rearticulated expression of ‘Students First’ and possibly that funding for identifiable loadings will be required to directly attach to that area.
  • NAPLAN Online – Plans to move NAPLAN online continue for next year. I have to admit to being a sceptic regarding getting all the technologies to align correctly, but I am assured by the relevant parties in charge of this project that it will happen. If it succeeds it will be the biggest change since the test started in 2008 and should provide much quicker access to results and ‘claims’ to be a more useful feedback mechanism for teachers and parents. It also promises to be more precise because, after the first few questions determine a student’s general level, later questions will be focused on locating each student’s skill level more exactly.


Introductory Comments

No doubt the Same Sex Marriage (SSM) debate has been happening within your school communities. How does the Christian school respond in this debate?

We would be well aware of many views across our communities. I suggest there are three main ones: (1) The firm traditional marriage ‘no’ vote – it is a propositional truth; (2)  A traditional view of marriage but, as it is likely to happen, let’s focus on ‘protecting the freedoms’ view – this later ‘freedoms’ argument is what is most pertinent to Christian schools; (3) Christians don’t need to defend marriage as a societal construct (it is already fairly broken). If a Christian believes certain things about marriage then let him or her uphold their own view. They should not expect others to also hold to that view.

We have prepared a short and simple statement that captures what is critical for Christian schools. A further range of relevant and interesting viewpoints are included under the statement.

AACS Statement on SSM Debate

The following paragraphs might be useful in school newsletters should school leadership choose to do so. It can be adjusted to suit the school’s purposes.

There are a variety of views about the upcoming SSM postal plebiscite and AACS does not make any presumptions as to what position a school might want to take. Many will leave the matter for parents to decide themselves, rather than recommending a particular choice.

What AACS does seek to do, however, is to emphasise the need for a gracious and courteous argument, which allows for different viewpoints and respectful vigorous debate. There is no place for hate speech or condemnation.

Not only should our tone and attitude reflect our faith but we can also have the freedom to express our beliefs about marriage. There are a variety of views, including within Christian circles. For most within our Christian schools, our ‘scripturally-guided’ understanding is that God’s intention for marriage is the loving, committed union between a woman and a man.

We will argue strongly that Christian schools should have the freedom to teach and uphold their understanding of a biblically informed view of marriage without being seen as unfairly discriminating or judging others. Therefore, any change to laws about marriage should provide protection for religious organisations so that they can conduct themselves in accordance with their beliefs.

Our concern as the group advocating of behalf of Christian schools in the public sphere, centres on what protections there will be for Christian schools to teach or uphold a traditional view of marriage if the Marriage Act is changed.  At the present time it remains unclear what the implications of such a change might be for faith-based schools. Will schools be allowed to teach a traditional view of marriage without falling foul of future ‘discrimination’ claims? Will the protections that emerge cover Christian School staff modelling an approach to marriage that is consistent with the beliefs of the school? In our view, neither the exposure draft that the Government brought out late last year (followed by a Senate Inquiry) nor Dean Smith’s Private Member’s Bill deals adequately with the contested religious freedom issues. 

Should the Marriage Act change, we are asking for a clearly understood level of protection which ensures that faith based organisations, teaching and upholding a traditional view of marriage will not be subject to ‘hate speech’ laws or to accusations of discrimination that might be taken up by human rights tribunals.

These are the important questions that AACS is pursuing with the government and with the opposition on your behalf.

Frank Brennan Will Vote ‘Yes’ but He Still Wants to Protect Religious Freedom

Frank Brennan in The Guardian (Aug 17) says, “I am one of those Australians who will be pleased when same-sex marriages are recognised by Australian law but with adequate protection for religious freedoms.”

Further informative comments:

“One thing is certain. The issues surrounding religious freedom in a society which recognises same-sex marriage will not be fully resolved any time soon. Some argue that these issues should be resolved before the public votes in a compulsory plebiscite or voluntary postal survey. I can see that opponents of same-sex marriage might want to insist on this, and that supporters of same-sex marriage might regard this as a time delaying tactic. I could vote “yes” in a survey while hoping and demanding that the parliament do the hard work on religious freedoms when considering amendments to the Marriage Act. It is important to appreciate that the legal and policy changes needed to protect religious freedom would not appear in the Marriage Act but in other statutes such as the Sex Discrimination Act.”

[These words from Cardinal Pell after a meeting with the PM on the national human rights consultation well captures our viewpoint about the best way to protect religious freedom.]

“We are very keen to ensure that the right to practise religion in public life continues to be protected in law. It is not ideal that religious freedom is protected by so called ‘exemptions and exceptions’ in anti-discrimination law, almost like reluctant concessions, crumbs from the secularists’ table. What is needed is legislation that embodies and recognises these basic religious freedoms as a human right.”

“In February this year, the parliament’s select committee on the exposure draft of the marriage amendment (same-sex marriage) bill unanimously reported: “Overall the evidence supports the need for current protections for religious freedom to be enhanced. This would most appropriately be achieved through the inclusion of ‘religious belief’ in federal anti-discrimination law.” “

“It’s no longer good enough to treat the non-derogable right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion simply as an exemption to non-discrimination laws.”

Click here for the full article.

The Clash of Rights

Again The Australian Editor-at-Large, Paul Kelly (Aug 12) captures well the issues that are of great concern to Christian schools. I highly recommend reading this piece. Kelly says:

“Beyond the campaign lies the great dilemma. The proposition is lethal — that it would constitute a historical betrayal of the values of the Coalition parties if they “backed” a bill post-plebiscite on same-sex marriage that exposed individuals and institutions to retaliation for their beliefs because the government failed to strengthen Australia’s woefully inadequate laws on religious freedom and protection.”

“The Senate committee after reviewing the landscape said: “Overall the evidence supports the need for current protections for religious freedom to be enhanced. This would most appropriately be achieved through the inclusion of ‘religious belief’ in federal antidiscrimination law.” “

“Institute for Civil Society executive director Mark Sneddon summarises his views based on his submission to the Senate committee: “I am extremely concerned about the lack of legal protection across this country in terms of freedom of conscience, belief and religion for people who support traditional marriage. “These protections are far less than those for people who support same-sex marriage. Yet it is those who support traditional marriage who are more susceptible to actions … from government bodies and commercial organisations.”

“Parkinson says: “While the case in international human rights law for saying that same-sex marriage is a human right is very weak, the case for protecting religious freedom, and in particular freedom of conscience, is quite overwhelming.”

“The resistance falls into three categories: those who care only about achieving same-sex marriage; those who think protection around the ceremony is the only issue that matters; and those, like the champions of progressive ideology, who see this social change as an integral step in driving religion from the public square.”

Click here for the full article.

Click here for a copy of the draft Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017.

The Australian (August 14) also ran a front page story on the impact on schools. Sydney Catholic Archbishop Fisher posed many challenging questions in the article, ‘Same-sex coercion’ to hit schools’.

“Archbishop Fisher also rejected arguments the legalisation of same-sex marriage would not have broader consequences. “Many people believe that redefining marriage won’t affect them,” he said. “Respectfully, I would say they need to take another look — it will affect every Australian.

“In other parts of the world that have legalised same-sex marriage, those who believe in traditional marriage have been harassed or coerced into complying with the new view of marriage. It would be extremely naive to think that won’t happen here.

“Things will only get worse if marriage is redefined without adequate protections being first put in place.” He challenged political leaders to explain whether a vote for same-sex marriage would -result in the entrenchment of the Safe Schools program — an anti-bullying scheme that familiarises students with transgender concepts — and prevent parents from objecting to its content.

“Will children in government schools be subjected to propaganda in favour of same-sex marriage and gender fluidity such as the infamous Safe Schools program?” he said. “Will parents be free to take their children out of such classes? Will church schools be expected to toe the line also?”

Click here for the full article.

Those Lobbying for the ‘No’ Vote

Those Lobbying for the ‘No’ Vote grouped in The Coalition for Marriage, take the position that not only seeks to affirm a traditional view of marriage but also, therefore, that the definition of marriage should not be changed. This case uses a wide variety of reasons, all of which are captured on the Coalition for Marriage website (see ‘Consequences’ section). These arguments are largely about the rights of children; freedom of religion and speech; and gender identity politics.

Click here for the flyer which has summary of their arguments.

Our Manner Toward this Debate

I was quite taken with the spirit and attitude encouraged in this post. For me, having a similar attitude to Tom French doesn’t stop me holding the traditional marriage viewpoint. Two powerful paragraphs:

“For some of you, this may be the most controversial thing I say all post, but unless something crazy happens, soon same-sex marriage is going to be legalised. The question is, how do you want followers of Jesus remembered when all is said and done? Do you want us to be remembered as the ones who tried to deny the legal right of marriage to a group of people who we claim to love, many of whom do not claim to be Christians and adhere to Christian beliefs and values? Do you want us to be remembered as the people who hurled abuse at each other online and said horrible things about minorities? Do you want us to be remembered as the people who fought a losing battle and in the process further eroded our reputation as people of love? Or do you want us to be remembered as the people who spoke with love, who acted with love, who listened with love, and who won and lost with love?

“Same-sex marriage does not threaten the Lordship of Jesus, but how you act as a follower will reflect his Lordship to the world. We are Christ’s ambassadors, so if our words and actions could stop people from hearing the good news of what Jesus has done for them at the cross, it’s time to stop, there are more important things at stake than the legal definition of marriage.”

Click here for Tom French’s blog.


The Need to be Politically Involved

Akos Balogh says in his blog (Aug 16) ‘How Should Christians Engage the SSM Debate?’, “Instead of retreating from politics, Christians, out of love for their neighbours, should engage government, and help it to be as just as possible.”

Click here for the blog. 

Should You Vote?

This paragraph comes from Megan Powell de Toit writing in Engage.Mail:

“I haven’t discussed how you should vote, as that wasn’t my purpose with this piece. But here are some brief comments. You should vote with good conscience, according to your conviction about what will most honour God. For me, good conscience always involves humbly informing myself about the different issues and principles involved. I’m thinking through how a just and merciful God would have me vote. And, when the outcome is known, whether it went your way or not, let your response be gracious. For whatever the outcome, we will all need to negotiate that as a society, together. Go in grace. I’m praying for us.”

Click here for the full post.


NAPLAN Results and 10th Anniversary

NAPLAN results came out on August 2 and the usual digest and ‘no improvement’ commentary accompanied. The bulk of commentary focussed on the nil relationship between increased funding and improved results (see Jennifer Buckingham’s article below) and that looking for significant change is not a one year exercise. There was no significant improvement in average results.

10 years of NAPLAN should give us something and the following graph shows the significant changes.


The summary NAPLAN 2017 data can be downloaded from this site.

ACARA says there is a positive trend. Tim Dodd writes in The Australian Financial Review (Aug 2) that, “This is the 10th year of NAPLAN testing and the results have been a long source of frustration to educators and policy makers looking for improvements in Australian school achievement, which has fallen for the past decade against most international benchmarks… The good news in the 2017 results … is that there are long-term improvements in year 3 reading, spelling, and grammar and punctuation and year 5 reading, spelling and numeracy.”

Jennifer Buckingham from the Centre for Independent Studies wrote in The Australian (Aug 2nd):
“This year’s NAPLAN data show there is no straightforward relationship between school funding and students’ achievement… The evidence that extra money has contributed to higher achievement is far from clear. It is well-¬established that teaching is the greatest in-school influence on student achievement.

“Once high-quality teaching has been established, good teaching costs no more than poor teaching. This is partly why it is difficult to find a consistent causal association between the size of the education budget and results.

“Improving results requires schools to use evidence from the best multidisciplinary research on how children learn and the most effective way to teach them. If increased spending is not invested in making sure all teachers have this knowledge and expertise, then it is destined to be wasted.

Click here for the full article.

Respected education commentator Glenn Savage (The Conversation Aug 2) gave a ‘bread and butter’ explanation of this year’s results in an article , ‘NAPLAN is ten years old – so how is the nation faring?’

Click here for the full article.

The Worth of NAPLAN

After 10 years, one might have expected more commentary on the worth of the NAPLAN exercise. As I have stated on numerous past occasions, the value in NAPLAN is primarily as a longitudinal set of data; a diagnostic tool for teachers looking at a student’s progress over time in these two key learning areas; and, to ascertain whether there are significant weaknesses for individual students that might be addressed.

Using NAPLAN in this positive way requires teachers to have training and guidance in how to make best use of the data. The value to parents has some worth but it is a very limited picture. The list of misuses of NAPLAN data and how it has adversely impacted Australian teaching is feast for another time.

Hopefully the Gonski 2.0 Review will open up some of these questions. What we do know to date is that: (1) there isn’t a strong causal relationship between funding and results; (2) Reducing classes sizes has made no appreciable difference; (3) Attempts to get schools to compete through being ‘exposed’ has had no impact; (4) All the research says that teaching is the greatest influence on student achievement. Therefore the best investment should be into better teacher training and support (see the article that follows).

Eight Principles for Reversing Out Classroom Decline

Elena Douglas (The Australian, Aug 5-6) makes a number of really helpful suggestions – what she calls design principles that she suggests the Gonski 2.0 Review should incorporate. The only one of the 8 principles that I would challenge is Principle 5 ‘Data should drive decisions’. I don’t agree with it. There is far too much data-driven process and decision making that is making teacher’s role an administration nightmare. It is one thing to have a decent ‘evidence base’ it is quite another thing to let data be ‘king’.

Click here for the full article.

Funding Update

  • The SES data review (every 5 years)should be completed soon with the data being released October/November. My assumption is that it will inform 2018 funding. As expressed in a more detailed update (July newsletter) a 1 point change for a school of 1000 students would generally result in a change of $200-$250K which is significant. The challenge here for the Minister’s office is that, with so many other variables affecting funding (changed transitionary frameworks and new SWD arrangements), would this cause any significant adjustment problems?
  • 2017 Census Data will determine January and July 2018 payments. 2018 Census data will result in a ‘supplementation’ (remember that old Christmas present) adjustment in the October/November 2018 payment.
  • I am assuming that the ‘Estimator’ will come back on line once the Department has factored in all the new formulae (from the changed Gonski 2.0 legislation), entered in 2017 Census data (enrolment and NCCD) and the reviewed SES data. Questions about this have not been answered to date.

A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Gonski 2.0

Last month AACS distributed a ‘Parents Guide to Understanding Gonski 2.0’. We did this because there has been so much confusion and contrary arguments surrounding school funding changes.

Click here for the Parents Guide to Understanding Gonski 2.0.

The Business Manager, Gerry Beimers, of Mount Evelyn Christian School did his own shorter version. You might find it helpful.

Click here for the newsletter article.

Melton Christian College – A Sikh Turban

Melton Christian College found itself in many headlines regarding parents requesting that their child wear a Sikh turban at school. The hearing before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has been heard and they await a decision. On July 31, Principal Dave Gleeson wrote to the Melton school community:

“Dear Parents and other Members of the College Community,

As you may have seen in the news and other media last week, our College has been challenged at VCAT in relation to the uniform policy. I am writing to clarify why we have maintained respectful silence on the matter. The VCAT hearing is over so we now await the finding. As a College, we respect VCAT and its processes, which is why it was appropriate through the hearing that we made no public comment.”

Click here for the full letter.

Here are some key media stories on this situation.

Click here for The Age article July 24.

Click here for The ABC News article July 24.

Click here for The Conversation article July 20.

Xmas Card OK, But Don’t Mention Jesus

Over recent years we have seen numerous examples of assertive secularism placing new restrictions on what Christians and Christian programs are allowed to do.

A comment piece from the Sydney Morning Herald (July 31) captures this sentiment, “Many parents reasonably object that, in NSW, an untold number – possibly in the hundreds of thousands – are compulsorily idle for at least half an hour each week while their peers attend Special Religious Education classes. When in more than 50 per cent of schools more than half of students do not list a religion on their enrolment forms, it’s time for the state to follow Victoria’s lead and make SRE an elective to be taken out of school hours.”

Another example comes from the Queensland school yard. After a set of reviews of religious education in Queensland public schools, new guidelines emerged that caused confusion and some policy ‘back-flips’ by the state minister.

The arguments put up by some is that religious instruction, or its impact on children, can adversely impact on the ability of schools to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for students. It is hard not see this as the ‘playground thought police’.

We are thankful for The Australian journalist Rebecca Urban who ran a set of stories (late July – early August) exposing the new edicts, consequences and confusion it all caused.

In the August 11 article Urban says, “A controversial education departmental edict, suggesting that schools would be required to take action against students found to be “evangelising” to their peers, has been scrapped following a backlash from religious groups and parents. The department has instead turned its focus to students “recruiting” at school, a move that has left religious groups and their lawyers confused over the Queensland government’s official policy towards religious -instruction in public schools.”

Click here for that full story.

Primary School Children Displaying Worrying Behaviour

The Sydney Morning Herald (Aug 6) looked at the problematic issue of teachers needing to deal with displays of worrying sexual behaviour “prompting concerns that teachers are ill-equipped to differentiate between whether students are victims of sexual abuse or are imitating what they see in music videos or internet advertising, new research reveals.”

Click here for the full article.


How do You Deal with Parents Who Will Not Pay School Fees?

School Governance (July 20) takes a look at an issue that every independent school faces. “Families, due to a plethora of unfortunate circumstances … can fall upon harsh financial times and they may find it difficult or sometimes even impossible to continue to pay academic school fees.” How does the school approach this difficult situation?

Click here for the full article.

Losing Male Primary Teachers

Vaughan Cruickshank writing in The Conversation (Aug 8) asks why Primary schools are losing more and more male teachers and how can we retain them? He says:

“The percentage of male primary school teachers in Australia has decreased in recent decades, from 30.24% in 1983 to 18.26% in 2016. Education authorities have responded to this with recruitment-focused initiatives, such as scholarships and quota systems. But the continuing decline suggests more attention needs to be given to retaining those already in the profession.

“Why the decline? Men often leave teaching because of the gender-related challenges they face. My Ph.D research has found the biggest challenges male primary school teachers face are: uncertainty about physical contact with students; an increased workload due to expectations to take on masculine roles; and social isolation caused by difficulties in developing positive professional relationships with colleagues.”

The author goes on to suggest factors that could be considered if more men are to be retained in primary teaching.

Click here for the full article.