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Primary Ethics builds a bedrock of critical-thinking skills in primary schoolchildren across NSW

Primary Ethics is a NSW not-for-profit organisation that trains volunteers to deliver ethics classes to children in primary schools across the state, working in conjunction with the NSW Department of Education.

In the classes, children learn to consider ethical issues, exchange ideas with others and make well-reasoned decisions. Teachers pose hypothetical scenarios and questions to prompt discussions on questions such as “What counts as stealing?”, “Is it ever okay to be lazy?”, or “Is it ever okay to brag?”.

Heidi McElnea, communications manager at Primary Ethics, said: “As children work through these scenarios they start to explore grey areas. They develop the skills to think critically and take a range of aspects of a situation into account, rather than hold absolute views.”

Building training resources with impact

A key aspect of Primary Ethics’ offering is its bank of authoritative and in-depth training resources for volunteer teachers via its website portal. It represents a unique learning and development opportunity for volunteers from a range of backgrounds.

An appetite for secular ethics education continues to grow among schools, parents and volunteers. Year on year, Primary Ethics’ registration and enrolment numbers rise steadily.

“We’ve developed a curriculum and training materials that have universal applications,” says Heidi. “The process of having thousands of volunteers being trained and experiencing these kinds of discussions with children – it’s creating a ripple effect for change that’s really exciting to be a part of.”

The process of having thousands of volunteers being trained and experiencing these kinds of discussions with children – it’s creating a ripple effect for change that’s really exciting to be a part of.

Heidi McElnea
Communications Manager,
Primary Ethics

The Brief


In 2010, Primary Ethics approached Janison to provide the tools for its mission to run ethics programs for primary school children.

It’s a considerable task. A handful of staff coordinates 3,000 volunteers who fill a variety of roles in delivering ethics education to 40,000 students. It means the organisation needs a consolidated, reliable and scalable portal to organise and track essentials such as mandatory working with children modules, criminal background checks, enrolments, as well as the training modules themselves.

The Challenge


The Primary Ethics volunteer base has a complex make-up, including teachers, ethics coordinators and regional managers. This means that any learning platform needs to go beyond a one-size-fits all approach, and allow the team to easily customise training according to the user’s role and stage of their volunteering career and, critically, ensure that they maintain compliance.

The platform also needs to be able to handle an in-depth onboarding process.

Training manager Karen Lee says: “Our onboarding is quite complex, with quite a lot of prompts to the training. It’s not as simple as just one or two induction modules – it’s quite a journey that our volunteers undertake.”

Steady growth in the popularity of the classes also means that Primary Ethics needs to be able to scale up its programs easily to accommodate a significant influx of volunteers and schools. Karen says: “Soon we’ll be managing double our current volunteer numbers and we need to gear up for that. We had a 50 per cent increase in applicants for volunteering over just three months this year.”

The Solution


Since 2011, the Janison Academy platform has played a critical role in Primary Ethics’ delivery of online training, compliance, authorisation and reporting.

Features that streamline day-to-day essentials

“Before we had the platform, it was really hard for volunteer managers to see who was in their team,” said Karen. “Our team is not straightforward – a particular volunteer can hold more than one role and report to more than one manager. They can also be working at two different schools, where they have two different ethics coordinators. Using the roles and positions feature in the platform really helps us manage and track who’s reporting to who.”

The seamlessness and touch points really assist users, and this continues to the moment they step into the classroom as an ethics teacher.

Karen Lee
Training Manager, Primary Ethics

Tracking compliance is another key task that’s been made easier, Karen said. “When you have 3,000 volunteers, you need a system that you can rely on, especially for annual child protection compliance certificates. We rely on the customisable reports a lot for this. We’ve set them up so that managers can just hit a button and run the reports and get the information that they need about their volunteers’ compliance status.”

The team also make use of features such as sticky notes alerts for important messages. “We can set up a sticky note so that if a particular group logs into the system they can see for example a reminder to complete a certain course,” says Karen. “We can customise who gets which messages, which is much better than a bulk email and has more impact. And it’s harder to ignore than an email because it pops up on the user’s dashboard and stays there until they read it and close it.”

Smooth user experience

Customisable features within the Janison Academy platform meant that Primary Ethics could set up a self-registration feature on the website this year.

Karen said: “It means that we’re no longer passing information back and forth between two systems – straight from our website, new users can begin to apply and set up their own account, and we can give them the information they need right from the very first interaction.

“The seamlessness and touch points really assist users, and this continues to the moment they step into the classroom as an ethics teacher. It also of course reflects very well on our brand.”

The Result


The capabilities afforded by Janison Academy have allowed Primary Ethics to embrace its fast expansion and maintain a high quality of volunteer training and classes.

Many of the obstacles that the organisation was facing previously in terms of setting up programs in schools have been lessened, she added, and have streamlined the process for parents enrolling their children. “One of the big impacts of that is we’ve had a lot more enrolments, as well as a lot more volunteers applying,” says Heidi.

The organisation conducts regular surveys among volunteers to track how well it’s customising the system for the best user experience. “We quite often get feedback from users such as how excellent the onboarding and training is,” says Heidi.

“One volunteer told us ‘I’ve worked for a lot of corporations and this is the best onboarding that I’ve ever experienced.’”

An independent review of the Primary Ethics curriculum released in 2017 found it to be of high quality and praised the organisation’s robust training and authorisation processes.

Heidi says: “The Janison product plays such a big role in consolidating all the different arms of our organisation. If we didn’t have it, it would be very decentralised with lots of separate systems that don’t talk to each other very well. We really like that it’s a one-stop shop.

“Thanks to Janison, we’re better able to help prepare the next generation with critical thinking and ethical reasoning skills to help them feel more confident to make better decisions in their lives, now and into the future.” – Heidi McElnea

“The support we get from Janison with our scaling up is fabulous,” says Karen. “They’re very responsive and they don’t laugh at me when I ask technical questions.”

Heidi added: “Thanks to Janison, we’re better able to help prepare the next generation with critical thinking and ethical reasoning skills to help them feel more confident to make better decisions in their lives, now and into the future. We really want to thank Janison for the support they’ve given this project over the years.”

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One volunteer told us ‘I’ve worked for a lot of corporations and this is the best onboarding that I’ve ever experienced.’

Heidi McElnea


Statistics and Key Milestones

7,500

volunteers trained on the Janison Academy platform since 2011

763

new ethics teachers received full training in 2018

3,476

online completions for induction, compliance and CPD courses in 2018

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