Geoff Maslen reports on a bid to set up low-fee church schools to promote Christian education. A century after abandoning its school system in Australia, the Anglican Church is to re-establish a range of low-fee schools, in direct competition with the government and Catholic systems, because bishops believe state schools do not provide a proper Christian education.
The Church of England, as it was then called, was the first organisation in Australia to set up a system of primary and some secondary schools in the colonies early last century.
But the church gave up most of its schools when colonial governments began establishing their own departments of education from the 1870s, keeping control of only a few elite colleges in the capital cities.
Now the church is to return to running its own system with 14 new co-educational schools planned over the next decade, eight of them in Sydney and at least one in Canberra. The Sydney schools will be established in new growth areas in and around the city.
Most Reverend Harry Goodhew, the New South Wales archbishop, said: "In the 1990s, there are groups who would like to promote the view in schools that all faiths are equally valid, and these groups oppose the theory that our Christian faith should be the basis of our education system and our society. The movement of our society away from an exclusive commitment to Christian faith and values makes it imperative that we offer some Christian alternative."
Fees are likely to range up to $2,000 (Pounds 1,000) a year. This is more than that paid by parents who send their children to Catholic schools but markedly less than the annual $20,000 or so paid for student boarders at some of Australia's top private schools.
Costs of running the new Anglican system, however, will be subsidised by state and federal governments with schools receiving at least $800 per pupil in grants.
The powerful New South Wales Teachers' Federation attacked the plans for the new schools, claiming Australian governments would finance up to 80 per cent of the schools' running costs.
Denis Fitzgerald, the federation's senior vice-president, said the scheme seemed designed to maximise the amount of money received from the taxpayer in order to achieve a religious purpose. Yet the overwhelming proportion of Australians were non-Anglicans.
"In a pluralist society, a range of types of schools is desirable. But the Anglican Church is seeking to use public funding to reinforce a private belief system," he said.
About 10 per cent of Australian children are enrolled in so-called "independent" schools run by the Protestant churches while more than 20 per cent are in Catholic schools.
But almost all private schools receive government subsidies, with Catholic parochial schools virtually fully funded by the taxpayer.
Heading the move to recreate the Anglican school system is a former NSW state education bureaucrat who was sacked by the government last March. John Lambert, former president of the NSW Board of Studies, was dismissed after a disagreement with the education minister, Virginia Chadwick.