At Sandridge School, we respect the role that religion plays in the lives of many people. We also respect that, for some people, there is a spiritual element to their lives that may stem from a different kind of life philosophy. However, Australia is a secular state, with a legal system and political system that is free from official religious influence. On this basis, we believe that education should also be religion or spirituality neutral.
The notion that education in Australia should be ‘secular’ was enshrined in the Public Instruction Act in 1880; however, the majority of school choices across the country today involve some element of religious education.
Currently, if a parent chooses an independent education for their child, their choices are essentially limited to one of the major church based school networks, with less than a dozen secular independent schools in the country.
The government school system is secular, but even here, religion has played an increasing role in the educational experience of children, with Religious Education being conducted at schools in various forms with various levels of required participation over recent decades. Federal government policy has also introduced religion into the secular government school system through the funding of School Chaplains.
Campbell, Proctor and Sherington (2009) explored the paradox that as one of the most secular nations in the world, an increasing number of students attend religious schools in Australia. They concluded that a key reason for this paradox was the fact that in Australia, almost all independent schools have some religious affiliation. Buckingham (2010) provides a succinct summary of the historical dominance of churches in Australia’s independent school sector.
According to The Independent Schools Association, roughly 15% of independent schools offer secular education, but these are mostly made up of alternative schools such as Montessori Schools, international schools or special schools. Exceptionally few independent schools are genuinely secular and genuinely mainstream.
With over 20% of Australians formally declared as secular and over 80% not actively religious in the 2011 Census, we seek to provide a form of educational experience that meets the needs of this growing section of the community, whilst also providing a mainstream educational environment.
Through a secular education, students with an agnostic or atheist perspective will be able to learn within a secular view of the world, by experiencing education that does not seek to shape or guide this aspect of their lives one way or another.
And as a school that does not promote nor discourage religion or spirituality, a student is also free to explore their own religious or spiritual beliefs within the family environment, free from any influence of a differing religious perspective delivered by the school. We welcome people of all religious backgrounds to experience a secular education that does not promote or diminish religion either way.
As a school committed to social justice, equity, inclusion and active citizenship, Sandridge School will actively engage with the central social questions of the day. However, these issues will be explored through the lenses of ‘secular humanist ethics’ and ‘effective altruism’.
Buckingham, J. (2010). The Rise of Religious Schools in Australia. The Centre for Independent Studies.
Campbell, C., Proctor, H. and Sherington, G. (2009). School Choice: How Parents Negotiate the New School Markets in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Syd.