18th March, 2016

The Australian Christian Lobby has welcomed a "substantial pruning" of the Safe Schools program following a Government review.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced on Friday that a review by Professor Bill Louden, Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Western Australia, had "identified shortcomings that need to be addressed" while noting that public concern had also been expressed about the "actions, including the political advocacy, of some of the participant organisations".

He said the government would move to address the findings and "reasonable concerns" by amending and redesigning specified lesson plans and content as well as requiring the amended resources and any further resources to be peer reviewed and approved by a panel of qualified educators appointed by the Department of Education and Training.

Other actions to be taken by the government include requiring that the resources for the program not be used for political advocacy, introducing requirements that the material is only distributed and promoted in secondary school settings only, housing official resources only on the Australian Government Safe Schools Hub website and ensuring parents are "appropriately empowered and engaged" through a number of measures including requiring parental consent for student participation in lessons or activities while maintaining the rights of students to seek counselling services.

Lyle Shelton, managing director of the ACL, said that despite the changes, the program still encouraged teachers not to use terms like 'he' or 'she' when referring to students and that the concept that someone's gender is "largely a social construct" continued to be the underlying idea taught to children.

"Gender specific speech should not be purged from our schools to suit an ideology," he said in a statement following the minister's announcement. "This has nothing to do with stopping bullying."

Mr Shelton said the ACL was also seeking clarification from Senator Birmingham over concerns the program continued to encourage schools to change their toilet policy in a manner that would "allow boys identifying as girls to use the girl's toilets".

He welcomed news that parents would be consulted about their children's participation in the program. "Schools will be safer now that Minister Birmingham has stripped Safe Schools of its ability to promote websites promoting sex products and other age inappropriate content."

~ www.acl.org.au

- DAVID ADAMS