THE LOBBYIST'S VIEW: SECULARISING SCHOOL CHAPLAINCY

31st May, 2012
JIM WALLACE

The recent announcement by the Schools Education Minister Peter Garrett that more chaplains and secular workers are about to commence work at schools would seem good news if it didn’t herald another broken promise to the Christian community.

 

PICTURE: Enrico Corno/www.sxc.hu

"It’s not that schools shouldn’t have secular student welfare workers but this should not have come from the pool of money promised to the National School Chaplaincy Program during the 2010 election campaign."

Last year the government announced the National School Chaplaincy Program would be changed to the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program in 2012, thus allowing schools to apply for funding for secular workers from the same pool of funding which was originally for chaplains only.

It’s not that schools shouldn’t have secular student welfare workers but this should not have come from the pool of money promised to the National School Chaplaincy Program during the 2010 election campaign.

The government announced the expansion in numbers during the 2010 campaign but its commitment was that the chaplaincy program would retain its unique faith-based pastoral care emphasis.

In a video interview conducted just two weeks before the election, I asked Ms Gillard to reassure the Christian constituency that there were no plans to change this. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:

Jim Wallace: The unique pastoral care that is given by chaplaincy is because it draws particularly on its Christian faith just as Salvos have a unique form of pastoral care drawing on their Christian faith particularly in welfare areas. Their (the Christian constituency’s) concern is very much that the program wouldn’t be secularised and that it could retain its unique flavour through its link to Christian faith. Do you see that continuing, would that be your objective?

Prime Minister: Yes I do see that continuing...My view about the chaplaincy program is yes it would continue as a chaplaincy program with everything that that implies.

Of the 1000 schools which have applied for funding from what was previously money dedicated to chaplaincy, 35 per cent have applied for the role of a student welfare worker.

It’s still unclear why the government made this decision to appease aggressive secularists and the Greens who are opposed to the role of chaplains in schools.

Often there is a lot of misunderstanding around the role of chaplains. They do not teach religion in schools. In fact, religious instruction in government schools is entirely different from chaplaincy. Instead chaplains provide a spiritual dimension to their counselling of students that cannot be provided from secular counsellors.

The role of chaplains has been highly effective. A 2009 study into “The effectiveness of Chaplaincy” by Dr Phillip Hughes of Edith Cowan University and Professor Margaret Sims of the University of New England highlighted this.

On a scale of one to 10, principals rated chaplains at eight-point-six for providing an opportunity for students to talk through issues and offering support during significant problems. They were also rated at eight-point-five for offering support to students in special risk categories.

Chaplains are doing a great job in providing support to young people and it is vital that they are given the funding needed to continue this role and not have to compete with secular welfare workers for funding. The quarantining of the programmes funds was an important protection to ensure its future and this election promise so clearly given and now so clearly broken plays directly into the hands of those opposed to it.

Jim Wallace is managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby.

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