Several teachers have told The Australian they left Brethren schools in disgust at “excessive control” over what children were allowed to read and study.
And they said they were paid $10,000 a year less than teachers at comparable non-government schools because the sect did not allow enterprise bargaining.
The claims have prompted calls from teachers, unions and politicians for tighter conditions on taxpayer funding for Brethren schools, which receive $20.7 million a year in federal money.
A fundamentalist Christian sect, the Exclusive Brethren has created controversy in Australia and abroad for smear campaigns against liberal-minded politicians.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark accused the sect of hiring a private detective to gather dirt on her and husband Peter Davis, who was pictured in a magazine being kissed by a “mystery man”, who turned out to be a family friend.
The sect has 31 schools in Australia – in NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania – teaching 3823 children until the end of high school.
As the Brethren do not believe in tertiary education, they must hire non-members of the sect to teach in their schools. A teacher who recently left one of the sect’s three Oakwood schools in Tasmania said he did so in disgust at the “complete control” over the children and their education imposed by the Brethren.
“I didn’t want to contribute to a system in which the control over the children was so complete,” the teacher said.
“The children are told what jobs they will do and who they will marry. They were not being equipped to live in the outside world. The Brethren were cutting off the children’s pathways.”
Most modern novels were banned, pages were removed even from permitted 19th-century works and entire chapters were censored from science books.
“One science book had all the chapters on reproduction cut out,” one teacher said. “Most modern texts were banned.”
Teachers reported positives, such as excellent reading skills among the children and an absence of violent or abusive behaviour, but said pupils could be difficult to discipline because they did not believe they needed to heed the word of outsiders.
John Saunders, chief executive of the Brethren’s Hobart campus of Oakwood School, rejected the criticisms. “‘Our school community, including non-Brethren staff and teachers, has an understanding, respect and a commitment to abide by the school ethos,” he said.
“This ethos upholds scriptural principles, including the teachings of Christ and the apostles. Our school is a Christian fundamentalist school with a secular curriculum. Many modern-day novels are rejected on the basis they are contrary to the truth of scripture. The parents have set up the Oakwood school to protect their children from the rapid moral decline in today’s society.”
Independent Education Union federal secretary Lynne Rolley questioned taxpayer funding of Brethren schools, saying it was unfair to other non-government schools with full market pay rates.