Tanya Burrows … ''I thought it was a terrific thing for kids to do rather than nothing, which they do in non-scripture.'' Photo: Marco Del Grande
CHILDREN are being turned away from ethics classes in public schools because there are not enough volunteers or funding to meet demand.
Schools such as Gosford Public School on the central coast can offer classes only to those attending non-scripture classes. The school has no space to allow children learning scripture to opt out and study ethics.
Others have placed students on waiting lists until vacancies arise or new volunteers are appointed. The provider, Primary Ethics, said more than 4000 volunteers were needed to meet demand - seven times the existing number.
The organisation has had the most success recruiting volunteers in more affluent areas, such as the eastern suburbs and the lower north shore. However, ethics teachers were scarce in the western and south-western suburbs. The service is also limited by a lack of funding - it relies solely on private donations.
A spokesman for the Parents4Ethics lobby group, David Hill, said it was not fair some students were given priority over others.
''But that's just a way of rationing it, I guess. Most of the schools are doing a fantastic job in very difficult circumstances.''
Primary Ethics expects about 7000 students to take part in classes this year. But its general manager, Teresa Russell, said parents contacted the non-profit group daily seeking ethics classes at their school. Many more, she said, did not even know the classes were an option.
Under changes implemented by the state government last year, schools are only allowed to tell parents about ethics classes once they opt out of special religious education.
Ethics classes were introduced in 2011 as an alternative to special religious education.
Volunteers undergo a recruitment process involving police and child protection checks and complete a training course that involves online modules and two days of face-to-face training.
Tanya Burrows, the ethics co-ordinator at Ferncourt Public School in South Marrickville, taught the first ethics class in NSW two years ago.
''I thought it was a terrific thing for kids to do rather than nothing, which they do in non-scripture,'' she said.
The school, which had to turn away students last year, has about 120 students and six teachers this year. She said philosophical debates among her students were lively over topics like internet privacy and ''anything to do with animals''.
While Catholic scripture providers were initially concerned they would be in competition with ethics classes, they said the classes had had little effect on enrolments. A spokesman for the Catholic Conference of Religious Educators in State Schools, Jude Hennessy, said clashes in schools had been ''extremely rare''.
''It's good that ethics is giving kids, particularly those who have already opted out of SRE, that option,'' he said.