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CHILD SEX ABUSE MATERIAL SPREADING ON SOCIAL MEDIA

By Australian Newsletter

Child sexual abuse material is spreading “exponentially” over social media via networks of paedophiles who groom thousands of children, sometimes within seconds of contact.  Almost a million Twitter accounts were suspended for posting child sexual exploitation material last year, the company said.  Facebook and Instagram said they removed 21 million child nudity and exploitation posts in the nine months between July 2018 and March 2019. And YouTube reported taking down 1.9 million videos due to “child safety” issues between September 2018 and March 2019.

Twitter says it finds 96 per cent of child abuse accounts before users report them, and Facebook boasts a 99.2 per cent rate of catching child-exploitation posts before users report them.  But there are reasonable doubts about these detection rates, according to Dr Michael Salter, associate professor of criminology at University of NSW.  “I’ve just come back from two months in North America discussing these issues with some of the key players who are taking these child-abuse material notifications from the public,” he said.  “And I find that number of 99 per cent detection very difficult to believe.

“We need a clear set of eyes on the scale of this problem, the origin of this problem and the level of oversight and independent scrutiny,” Dr Salter says.  “We have exponentially increasing notifications of child-abuse material in every known agency and authority that takes these reports that are independent of industry.”  Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, reportedly became the leading platform for child grooming in the United Kingdom this year, with more than 5000 local reports emanating from its site there.  The Australian Federal Police (AFP) deal with about 1000 reports of child exploitation material each month.

“The AFP Assessment Centre is now receiving more and more reports of children aged as young as four producing sexually explicit material and uploading this material to social media platforms,” an AFP spokesman said.  A child can be groomed in seconds and some grooming operations use multiple platforms, with multiple identities, the spokesman said.  Offenders often use apps as a gateway, and then direct children to other platforms to elicit photos and facilitate meetings, the AFP said.  Police report offenders targeting parents or carers for access to children through social media with offers of free products or requests for children to model clothing.

Responding to claims its platform is used to facilitate child exploitation, YouTube said it disabled comments from “tens of millions of videos that could be subject to predatory behaviour” in February.  And last month YouTube banned live streaming by minors unless “clearly accompanied by an adult”.  Youtube is reportedly being investigated in the United States for allegedly violating children’s privacy.  More than 400 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute and despite it not being meant for anyone under 13, the platform regularly “terminates” accounts the company believes to be held by someone under 13 as it violates their policy.

University of Melbourne Research Fellow Dr Gemma McKibbin said it was common to hear about grooming on these platforms but that children were also groomed playing online games.  “We don’t give children cars and expect them to drive but we do give them Ipads and phones and expect them to negotiate adult content and potential grooming,”  Dr McKibbin said.  Perpetrators often show pornography to children to desensitise them and then manipulate them to believe they’re in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, which means if adults recognise the grooming, children may protect the perpetrator and won’t make statements against them, Dr McKibbon said.

Adult nudity on Facebook and Instagram last year reached its highest level since reporting began in 2017, with about 19 million posts removed in the three months to March 2019.  Messenger and other platforms are hoping to nullify the legal threat posed by illegal content on their services by moving to encrypted communication methods, Dr Salter said.  “Facebook claims that encrypted Messenger is in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and is linked to concerns for user privacy,” Dr Salter said.  “With encryption kids will be far less safe because Facebook is unable to tell whether an illegal activity is taking place on the Messenger platform,” he said.

“Once they are notified of abuse material they remove it.” Salter said.  Facebook employs about 15,000 people to review content and enforce “community standards” but a bug in its detection software meant they found less child nudity and exploitation content in the first three months of 2019 (5.4 million posts) than the previous quarter (6.8 million).  The social networks said they report all abuse to relevant authorities and will continue to develop solutions to block and remove exploitative content, as well as prevent grooming online.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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RELIGION BILL HAS ELEMENTAL FLAWS CHRISTIANS TELL CHRISTIAN PORTER

By Australian Newsletter

Australia’s peak Christian lobby group has told Christian Porter the government’s updated discrimination bill requires wholesale changes, as the Attorney-General prepares to re-engage with key faith groups ahead of finalising legislation to protect religious freedoms.  Mr Porter has come under pressure from leading faith, legal, business, education, health and social groups in the past week demanding his revamped religious discrimination legislation be heavily amended, delayed or dumped.  The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), which has more than 170,000 supporters, described the bill as containing “fundamental deficiencies which need to be addressed”.

In a submission lodged with the Attorney-General, ACL said Mr Porter’s draft legislation needed “considerable amendment before it is an effective religious discrimination bill”.  The ACL said it wanted to work with the government and MPs to “facilitate changes to protect Australians from religious discrimination”.  Mr Porter has confirmed he would undertake “another brief round of consultations” before a final bill was put to parliament.  He said there had been “sensible issues raised in some submissions around the effectiveness of drafting”, including in relation to Jewish aged-care and hospitals.

The bill is likely to be introduced in March before entering a parliamentary review process, and substantial amendments would be required to win passage, and bipartisan support, for a religious discrimination act.  “Naturally that bill will be subject to parliamentary committee processes, and the parliamentary committee will make recommendations that will be considered by government as the bill progresses through parliament,” Mr Porter said.  The ACL said the government had “clearly made an effort” in responding to concerns of faith groups, including addressing two of the seven issues raised by the group, but felt the new bill failed to fix “fundamental flaws”.

The Law Council of Australia (LCA) also expressed “significant concerns” about the draft bill, because of its “unorthodox features”, and warned of an adverse impact on businesses.  “These not only raise human rights concerns, but also complicate an already complex area of law,” the LCA submission said.  “By adding multifaceted and novel legal tests to existing legal frameworks, the bill is likely to create an onerous compliance burden for the business and community sectors alike.”  The rising opposition to the new legislation unveiled last year sets up a potential showdown in the Coalition party-room and with Labor unless the concerns of stakeholder groups are addressed.

Acknowledging a change to the statements of belief clause in clarifying the definition of “vilify”, the ACL said adding the words “threaten” and “seriously intimidate” would hand tribunals and courts an opportunity to “knock out an otherwise protected statement of belief”.  It said the three “most important areas of concern” raised by the ACL in its original submission were not addressed.  It said “lawful religious activity” remained undefined, “unjustifiable financial hardship” of an employer should not be a defence for discrimination against an employee who makes a statement of belief outside work and government employers should be included.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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SOUTH AUSTRALIAN ATTORNEY-GENERAL MUST EXPLAIN PRO-ABORTION REPORT

By Australian Newsletter

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is disappointed with a South Australian Law Reform Institute (SALRI) report that strongly backs weaker abortion laws.  The Attorney-General released SALRI’s “Abortion: A Review of South Australian Law and Practice” report late last year.  The report recommends abortion up to and including birth, changing the word ‘woman’ to ‘person’ and banishing people praying or expressing concern about abortion 150 metres from health facilities.  “Despite the evidence presented in submissions, the report landed very close to Greens Party policy in almost every respect,” ACL South Australian director Christopher Brohier noted.

“Much of the responsibility for that lies with the Attorney-General’s pro-abortion terms of reference to SALRI. Recommending abortion up to and including birth is lamentable,”  Mr Brohier observed, “SALRI had a real opportunity to recognise rapid advances in medical science and understanding of the personhood, sensory capabilities and viability of an unborn child.  Abortion often arises due to coercion and many women have inadequate information before proceeding, leading to lifelong grief. SALRI paid mere lip service to evidence supporting these concerns, with merely one recommendation on abortion coercion.”

“It is believed the Attorney-General intends to prepare legislation allowing abortion up to and including birth,”  Mr Brohier added, “This is highly concerning. A second opinion after 23 weeks’ gestation is a fig-leaf safeguard.  How could the law justify ending a 9-month-old unborn child’s life, without any effective restriction?  As the State’s chief law officer driving this legislation, the Attorney must provide an answer.”  “ACL calls on the Marshall government to represent all South Australians, not just Greens Party voters, and react cautiously to the report,” Mr Brohier concluded.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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Feature Article 15 February 2020

By Feature Articles

THE COMING TOGETHER OF WORD AND SPIRIT

When the new church phase is on the wane, there will be evidenced in the churches something that has not been seen before: a coming together of those with an emphasis on the Word and those with an emphasis on the Spirit.  When the Word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest movement of the Holy Spirit that the nation, and indeed the world, has ever seen. (Smith Wigglesworth)  This coming together of the Word and Spirit has been confirmed by others, including R.T. Kendall, former pastor of Westminster Chapel and Christian author.  By word I mean the centrality of the gospel.  By spirit I mean signs, wonders and miracles.

It will mean a spontaneous combustion of power and authority for the Church and a wake-up call to the nation.  Both of these nationally recognized spiritual leaders have prophesied a heaven-sent “movement” of God, ignited by a coming together of the Word and the Spirit. If we want to embrace this word and position ourselves for heaven’s “spontaneous combustion,” I believe it will take the Word-based Evangelicals and the Spirit-fuelled Charismatics and Pentecostals to pursue even closer relationships in prayer, practice, and initiatives.  Rather than just acknowledging each other’s presence in the room, we need to huddle in prayer, and start taking notes from heaven.

This next move of the Spirit will require a coming together of believers that is much deeper than in days gone by.  Intercession is requiring a oneness of heart and mind that can only happen when we embrace the apostles and prophets, the Word and the Spirit, and acknowledging the value and power of each.  It must influence the way we worship together and pray together, for this is the only way to access heaven’s power and authority.  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.

In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in Him we are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)  Two years ago I had a profound dream that highlighted God’s heart concerning the coming together of the Body of Christ.  I saw a group of people, huddled together in the corner in earnest intercession. Behind them in the distance was a mountain.  I knew it represented kingdom authority and heaven’s council.  The intercessors were seeking to connect and align themselves to this mountain in order to break through and bring heaven’s authority to bear on the earth.

Yet, the connection was not clear.  Interaction with this mountain was blocked.  Knowing we were not fully aligned, I stepped out of the group and began to move to the centre, holding an invisible kind of line connected to this mountain.  I knew we had to come into perfect alignment in order to break through.  Finally, after continuing to move little by little toward the middle, watching this line of communication eventually settle into place, I waited.  After a few moments I saw something begin to move in the distance.  Slowly but steadily I saw three distinct Beings emerge from the heart of the mountain.  Closer and closer they came until I saw what they were.

Three large eagles, stately, bearing immense authority and grace.  As they drew closer, I knew they had been summoned.  I also knew they were looking at me.  As they drew nearer a fear and dread began to come over me at the authority and might I sensed coming from them.  They were deliberate, forceful, yet moving cautiously, looking, listening.  At last, the three huge figures hovered immediately above me, looking down at me with a silent yet unmistakably loud message: “We come together, or not at all.”  I woke from this dream shaking in the Fear of the Lord.

I had never experienced the power and presence of the Trinity before.  Their call was unmistakable, and I knew it was a charge to the Church.  It was the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit speaking to us as we are desperately praying for breakthrough in both the nation and in the Church.  Until we acknowledge the fullness of each person of the Godhead, we will not see the fullness of heaven come to the earth.  We cannot pick and choose which expression of the Trinity we prefer.  We cannot focus on one at the expense of the other.  Each represents and expresses God’s heart and character in a different dimension.

God, our Creator and loving heavenly Father.  Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh and the only way to salvation through the cross.  Holy Spirit, the full expression and manifestation of the Father’s heart.  They are One.  They cannot be divided.  If we want heaven to come to earth, they must come together.  In our intercession and interaction as the Body of Christ, we must honor and celebrate those expressions and messages that are different from ours.  Those who focus on the Father’s unconditional love must be willing to acknowledge the call to righteousness.  Those who celebrate the gifts of the Spirit must do so in love and submission to the Living Word.

Those who call for a higher standard of scriptural integrity must also be willing to embrace activities of the Spirit that are not easily understood or proof-texted in Scripture.  We do not have to compromise our convictions in order to value and honor other parts of the Body and the assignment they carry (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).  God speaks through many voices and each voice that is connected to His heart carries a needed message.  Yet, each is but a part of the whole.  If we do not see the value of each part, we will miss the whole message.  In the dream I had to get out of my comfortable corner in order to align my heart with heaven.

I had to step outside my familiar group and surroundings in order to summon a response.  The connection I was looking for was a heart connection.  I needed to tune my heart to God’s in order to comprehend the fullness of His plans and purposes.  To do that, I had to be willing to go into unfamiliar territory so I could receive new input and new perspectives.  The Lord is inviting us to pay more attention to the frequencies of heaven than to our own familiar wavelengths.  In our interactions, prayers and communications, we can honor one another and give value to the particular message each brings and the role each part plays.

When we hear God’s purposes fully expressed through each part of the Body, we will truly connect to His heart.  His Spirit within us will help to filter out the unnecessary parts and lesser things so we can hear the full council from heaven.  Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free, and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14 NIV)

Source: Wanda Alger, Intercessors for America

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STUDENTS BETRAYED BY FADDISH SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT

By Australian Newsletter

In business the buck stops with the chief, and in most cases there are immediate consequences for mismanagement or failure.  Not so with those career educrats responsible for Australia’s substandard education system, where the abysmal Program for International Student Assessment results highlight a nation at risk.  In 2003, Australian students were ranked 10th in maths, fourth in reading and sixth in science.  Fifteen years later, 2018 results released this week show state and territory students have dropped to 25th in maths, 16th in reading and 14th in science.

For those arguing the OECD’s PISA test relates only to 15-year-old students, the reality is that in other international tests, including Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, our students’ results are also abysmal.  In the most recent PIRLS test evaluating reading, Australian students are ranked 21st; in TIMSS our Year 4 students are 19th in science.  As I’ve argued since Why Our Schools are Failing was published in 2004, the reasons Australian students are plummeting down the league tables are obvious.

Peak bodies such as the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), the Australian Curriculum Studies Association, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and the Australian Education Union represent a self-serving clique. ACER head Geoff Masters, past head of ACARA Robert Randall and NSW Education Standards Authority chairman Tom Alegounarias never face any consequences for their failures and instead are promoted to their least level of ability.  Instead of relying on the evidence about the most effective way to raise standards, give students a rigorous and rewarding education and better support schools and staff, those in control exist in a world far removed from the realities and the practicalities of the classroom.

As a result, schools during the past 40 years have been forced to implement untested and costly fads such as “whole language”, where the mistaken argument is that learning to read is as natural as learning to talk.  Teachers also have been told, instead of providing explicit teaching, they should “be guides by the side” and that memorisation is obsolete.  Ignored is that learning to read is decidedly unnatural, explicit teaching is the most effective method of managing a classroom and cognitive research proves memorisation is vital as students need to automatically recall what they have been taught.

The most recent example of this destructive urge to take on the latest fad is ACARA’s adoption of the OECD’s Education 2030 project.  Awash with the usual cliches employed by bureaucrats, the project describes future societies as “changing rapidly and profoundly”, being beset with “a growing array of complex societal problems” and experiencing “disruptive waves of change in every sector”.  Ignored is that continuity is just as important as change and that human nature and emotions such as love, jealousy, fear, betrayal, ambition, joy and the existential need to find fulfilment and meaning have not changed since the time of the ancient Greek playwrights and philosophers.

Millions of dollars also have been wasted on the assumption the new digital technologies will magically improve results.  Based on research carried out by the OECD, the opposite is the case.  Australian schools have one of the highest rates of adopting computers and the internet while standards continue to nosedive.  What’s to be done?  The first thing is for politicians to recapture the agenda by sidelining organisations such as ACARA and the ACER to regain control.  Politicians also must stop consulting snake oil salesmen who have never taught and who always argue they have the magic bullet that will lead to higher standards.

The second thing is to implement the recommendations of the national curriculum review I co-chaired in 2014.  The curriculum must be cut back to what is essential and focus on our best validated knowledge and artistic achievements instead of politically correct gender theory and indigenous, Asian and environmental perspectives.  Schools must be freed from provider capture, where school leaders and teachers are drowned in red tape and paperwork that takes time and energy from educating students.  Research proves that giving schools the autonomy and flexibility to manage themselves leads to stronger outcomes.

It should not surprise that, based on international tests, Catholic and independent schools outperform the majority of government controlled schools even after adjusting for the impact of a student’s home background.  We also need to identify the characteristics of stronger performing overseas education systems and, where possible, adopt such practices locally.  While the Confucian respect for learning and authority figures might not translate easily, characteristics such as setting high expectations and ensuring disciplined classrooms are obviously transferable.

Based on past experience, the greatest danger is that in a week or two the public and media furore over the latest PISA figures will have dissipated and nothing substantial will have changed.  Even worse is the intention of education ministers to force schools to adopt the retrograde recommendations of the Gonski Review to “achieve educational excellence”.  Getting rid of year levels and summative assessment in favour of personalised learning and progression points is a recipe guaranteed to lower standards even further and commit generations of students to underperformance.

Source: Article written by Kevin Donnelly, senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University.

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AUSTRALIAN YOUTH CONCERNED ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH, ENVIRONMENT AND BULLYING

By Australian Newsletter

The current Mission Australia Youth Survey Report reveals that young people aged 15 to 19 in Australia report issues and concerns relating to mental health, the environment, bullying and voice.  For the third year running, mental health is the top national issue.  The proportion of young people identifying mental health as an issue of national importance rose substantially from 21.6% in 2016 to 36.2% this year.  The top four personal concerns also relate closely to mental health: coping with stress (44.7%), school or study problems (34.3%), mental health (33.2%) and body image (31.0%).  The environment soared from eighth place in 2018 (9.2%) to second place in 2019 (34.2%) of the topics of importance to young people, more than tripling in significance since last year.

Young people were also asked whether they felt they have enough of a say about important issues, with less than one in 10 (7.2%) young people feeling they have a voice all of the time in public affairs.  A higher proportion of females than males felt they have a say none of the time in public affairs (55.4% compared with 48.0%). Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said:  “These results clearly indicate that young people in Australia feel disenfranchised and are deeply concerned about a range of important issues.  Feeling ignored is perhaps driving young people to engage in other ways to be heard, such as climate strikes.

“It’s vital that all young people have opportunities and forums available to them so they can speak up and shape public matters and policy.  Young people’s concerns must be considered when forming policies that affect their lives and futures.  Young people must be part of the design of programs or services for young people.  They are, after all, the experts in what it is to be a young person in Australia today.”  Young people also expressed that they are facing a range of challenges in their lives.  For the first time in 2019, young people were asked whether they had experienced bullying, with 21.0% of young people reporting they had been bullied in the past 12 months.

Of those who had experienced bullying, eight in ten (79.9%) reported that the bullying took place at school/TAFE/university, just over one third (34.0%) had experienced bullying online/on social media, while around one fifth (18.1%) had experienced bullying at home.  Nearly half of young people (47.7%) had also witnessed bullying in the past year.  Proportionally, more young people from regional areas than those from major cities had experienced bullying over the past year (24.5% compared with 19.0%).  Mr Toomey said: “Young people are acutely aware of their own mental health and they can certainly see it is a prevailing issue right across Australia.

“This year, our survey also confirms a disturbing level of bullying which young people are experiencing or witnessing.  This is unacceptable.  Bullying can cause and exacerbate mental health concerns, with potentially harmful and lasting effects on young people’s lives.  “In light of these findings, it’s clear there is urgent need for better investment in programs and initiatives that promote mental health and wellbeing and combat bullying.  A greater focus on prevention and early intervention is also sorely needed.  By investing in programs that are proven to work, young people will have a better chance of reaching their potential.”

The Youth Survey Report 2019 also indicates around six in 10 young people felt very happy/happy (60.7%) overall with their lives and are very positive/positive (58.3%) about the future.  The majority of young people are engaged in education and confident in their ability to achieve their study and work goals.  Most young people report strong family relationships and are involved in a range of activities.  Mr Toomey said: “It’s pleasing to see so many young people report a positive and optimistic outlook on their lives and their futures.  But we can also see that young people are asking for change.  We owe it to young people to take action.”

Toomey went on “We must stand alongside them to advocate for the changes they want to see, provide opportunities to have a say and better support them with the services they need as they transition to adulthood.”  The 18th annual Youth Survey was completed by more than 25,000 young people aged between 15 and 19 years.  The results of the Youth Survey are shared with governments, NGOs, schools and social commentators to inform the debate around the circumstances of young people in Australia and to support the development of policies, services and programs that have the needs of young people at their core.

Source: Mission Australia

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MORE THAN 600 KINDERGARTEN CHILDREN SUSPENDED LAST YEAR

By Australian Newsletter

More than 600 kindergarten students were suspended from NSW primary schools last year, raising concerns small children are being sent home as punishment for undiagnosed disorders such as autism or ADHD.  Figures from the NSW Department of Education show the number of kindy students suspended rose from 398 in 2014 to 435 in 2016, then jumped to 514 in 2017.  Last year, the figure reached 626.  The department is reviewing its suspension and expulsion policy after revelations students with disabilities are over-represented in suspension figures.

Louise Kuchel from Parents for ADHD Advocacy Australia said many students were arriving in kindergarten with undiagnosed or newly-diagnosed conditions such as ADHD, autism, or anxiety, which affected their behaviour.  “It’s really a concern that these are little tiny kids,” she said.  “When the principals go down the path of suspending the child, they are supposed to show that they have been violent, that they were going to hurt them or harm the teacher, yet they are just five years old. It doesn’t make sense.”  But disability expert Linda Graham from the Queensland University of Technology said the figures showed NSW was doing a better job on suspensions than Queensland.

“I think that no kindy kid should ever be suspended, because they don’t understand what it means, but those figures are considerably less than Queensland,” she said.  “In 2017, there were 1067 prep kids suspended in Queensland.  “It’s not good that 626 four and five-year-olds are being suspended.  It’s terrible that that is happening, however NSW is clearly doing something better than Queensland.”  Labor MP Courtney Houssos, a member of the upper house education committee, which called for the figures, urged Education Minister Sarah Mitchell to investigate.

“Suspensions should only ever be used as a last resort and it’s deeply concerning that more than 600 children who have just started school have already been suspended,” she said.  One mother, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said her son was suspended five times in kindergarten.  He is now in year 2 and has been suspended a total of 11 times, she said.  “He gets quite dysregulated because of ADHD, he will push over tables, he goes into fight or flight.” she said.  “His teachers just don’t get the right training, they don’t understand it’s a disability.”

Labor’s education spokesman Prue Car said “something is drastically wrong if 600 kindergarten children are being suspended” in a year.  The figures apply to public schools.  Parliament cannot compel Independent schools to reveal their suspension figures.  Students with a disability made up 20% of the total school population.  The NSW Department of Education policy statement says suspension is not designed to be punitive, but rather to give the school, student and parents time to put strategies in place to help avoid a similar situation in the future.

Four per cent of NSW public school students, or 32,300 children, received short-term suspensions last year, with more than 9000 of them in primary school.  About 1.5 per cent of all students were given long-term suspensions, lasting for between four and 20 days.  “The rate of suspension for our kindergarten students is concerning and the department is working with internal and external stakeholders on an independent review to look at how we can better support students, including in stage one.  The review will be completed in 2020,” a spokesman for NSW Department of Education said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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FAITH SHOWN IN CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS AS ENROLEMENTS RISE

By Australian Newsletter

Christian school enrolments have soared over the past 5 years, surpassing growth in the public and broader independent sectors, amid claims the rising influence of identity politics in many schools is alienating families with traditional values. Independent Schools Council of Australia data reveals enrolments in Christian schools have increased by an average of 3.3% a year for the past 5 years, accelerating to 4.4% in the past 2 years.  Christian schools added more than 10,000 students between 2013 and 2018, with the 18% growth outstripping the 7.7% growth seen in government school numbers.  The independent sector recorded only a 1.7% annual growth over the same period.

According to the Australian Association of Christian Schools (AACS), enrolment growth was driven by an increasing demand for a Christian education rather than the establishment of new schools.  Fees are more modest, in the $3000 to $7000 range, making the schools more accessible than many non-government schools.  AACS executive director Alithea Westerman said reports suggested an increasing number of parents were drawn to a Christian education in the wake of the public furore around programs such as Safe Schools, which lost federal funding in 2016 following controversy about its promotion of gender and sexual diversity. The program still operates in Victoria.

“Our principals report that enrolment discussions are revealing quite a number of both religious and non-religious parents voicing that their choice to switch is as a result of philosophies and social campaigns being advocated in public schools that they disagree with,” Ms Westerman said.  “They are worried about what their kids are being taught and that it is not in line with their worldview.”  Ms Westerman said Christian education schools, which differ from many church-affiliated schools in that a Christian worldview is embedded across all aspects of the curriculum, were upfront about what they taught and the behaviour expected of students, which many parents appreciated.

“They work in partnership with parents from many different backgrounds to uphold Christian values and ensure education milestones are met, while having a strong emphasis on holistic character formation,” she said.  Christian Schools Australia director of public policy Mark Spencer said many incoming students were from families who did not count themselves as “regular churchgoers” but wanted the values of a Christian education.  “It’s the ‘Howard battlers’, the ‘working families’ of Rudd and Gillard, ‘Tony’s tradies’, whatever label you want to put on them, they’re ordinary, everyday Australians,” he said.

“We are also attracting large numbers of students whose parents did not themselves go to a non-government school.”  Mr Spencer said CSA represented about 120 schools, about half of all Christian education schools across the country, and many were at capacity with long waiting lists.  “Without a large denomination behind them, it is very hard for any group to start a new school because of the huge start-up costs,” he said.  However, that has not stopped many schools planning for further growth.  Heathdale Christian College in Melbourne’s outer-west has about 1800 students across two campuses which is expected to swell to excess of 3000 in coming years.

Principal Ross Grace said families from Asia had been particularly drawn to the non-denominational school and its Christian ethos.  “We are quite open about the fact we take our faith seriously, it’s not an add-on, it’s ingrained in all that we do.  And our families want that for their children,” Mr Grace said.  “But we also know that 40 per cent of our families are non-active in their faith and there is a concern that some state schools have developed a culture that is really counter-productive, particularly in regards to discipline and the expectations of the kids and what they can achieve.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports