Western Australia’s Education Department has been accused of censoring students as part of a visit by senior Labor MPs to a Perth high school.
A group of Labor MPs visited Ballajura Community College on Monday, and held a question and answer session with the school’s Year 11 and 12 political and legal studies students.
In the days leading up to the visit, students were asked to prepare a list of questions related to policy issues linked to the portfolios of the MPs.
However, the state’s Education Department later advised the students that their questions were “too political” and asked that they choose something more generic in nature.
The students ended up asking the MPs questions related to the parliamentary system, life in politics and the best and worst parts of their jobs.
Labor's education spokeswoman, Sue Ellery – who attended the event – told the ABC that she and her colleagues were shocked by the decision not to allow policy questions.
“I was to be asked questions about Labor's policy on science, the policy on services in schools, the safe schools program, all education policy matters that have been the subject of public debate,” she said.
“I think it's extraordinary that we're so afraid of what might happen if they ask the questions they actually wanted to ask that we shut them down.”
However, a spokesperson for the WA Department of Education told The Educator that the purpose of the question and answer session was for students to learn more about the workings of a modern democracy, parliamentary processes and functions of parliament.
“A number of the questions written by students were designed to elicit the political views of a particular party rather than to create general discussion about parliament and the roles of parties, which is more in line with the Department of Education's published protocols,” the spokesperson said.
“Students were asked by the principal to write questions that focussed on the processes of a modern Australian parliamentary democracy and the challenges facing those who choose politics as a career. They also had to be related to the curriculum.”
The spokesperson added that it was important for schools to “balance rich learning opportunities while maintaining an apolitical stance”.