National School Chaplaincy Program – What Principals Think


1

Summary

The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) sought the views of Victorian government school principals about the operation of the National School Chaplaincy Program in Victorian government schools.

1.1 The Findings

During December 2018, 2,287 Victorian government school principals were consulted; 62 participated in the consultation.

The key findings are:

  • 90.3% of Victorian government school principals do not think it is important that their school chaplain should be Christian.
  • 74.2% of Victorian government school principals know that many of the Department’s approved chaplaincy provider organisations will only hire people who are Christian to be chaplains to work in Victorian government schools.
  • 61.3% of Victorian government school principals think that when choosing an approved chaplaincy provider organisation a school should take into account whether the provider organisation will only hire people from a particular religion.
  • Principals report refusing to participate in the National School Chaplaincy Program because of its built-in religious discrimination.  

1.2 The Rationalist Society of Australia’s view

The RSA believes that:

  • discriminating against people on the ground of religion is wrong
  • there is no good reason why pastoral care services in Victorian Government Schools cannot be provided successfully by people who are not Christians, and
  • it is wrong for governments to give special benefits to religions such as creating jobs available only to religious people.

The RSA believes that providing pastoral care services to school students is a good thing: students benefit from professional care by suitably qualified people, families benefit from the advice and support provided, and schools benefit from having additional trusted adults in their communities. Removing the built-in religious discrimination in the NSCP would result in more school principals choosing to access pastoral care services for their students.

The Government should change the rules of the NSCP to allow any suitably qualified person to be hired to work in Victorian government schools regardless of the person’s religious beliefs or affiliation.

2

Overview of the Project

2.1 The National Schools Chaplaincy Program in Victorian Government Schools

The National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) is not run by the Federal Government. The Federal Government provides funds to the States and Territories on condition those funds are used to set up and run the NSCP.

In Victoria, the NSCP is run by the Victorian Department of Education and Training. Here is how the Program runs:

  • Each Victorian government school may apply to the Department of Education and Training for funding to pay for a school chaplain.
  • Schools that receive funding may enter into Service Agreement with one the Department’s approved chaplaincy provider organisations.
  • The contracted chaplaincy provider organisation then hires a chaplain (who is an employee of that organisation rather than the school or Department) who provides chaplaincy services in the school.

School chaplains have no religious functions. Their role is to provide ‘chaplaincy services’. The Department’s policy documents define chaplaincy services in this way:

Chaplaincy Services means pastoral care services (which includes the practice of looking after the personal needs of students, not just their academic needs, through the provision of general spiritual and personal advice) and strategies that support the emotional wellbeing of students and the broader school community.

There is a code of conduct prohibiting school chaplains from engaging in religious proselytising.

Only a person who meets the following qualifications may be hired as a school chaplain using NSCP funds. The person must:

  • be recognised by the school community and the appropriate governing authority for the school as having the skills and experience to deliver school chaplaincy services to the school community; and
  • be recognised through formal ordination, commissioning, recognised religious qualifications or endorsement by a recognised or accepted religious institution; and
  • meet the NSCP’s minimum qualification requirements, which are either:
    • a Certificate IV in Youth Work; or
    • a Certificate IV in Pastoral Care; or
    • a Certificate IV in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care; or
    • an equivalent qualification (as determined by the States), that must include competencies in mental health and responding to client needs.

Further information about how the National School Chaplaincy Program operates in Victorian Government schools can be found on the Department’s website here.

2.2 The Project

The RSA has long been concerned that the National School Chaplaincy Program involves religious discrimination.

The official definition of school chaplain requires all chaplains to “be recognised through formal ordination, commissioning, recognised religious qualifications or endorsement by a recognised or accepted religious institution”. Job advertisements for school chaplain positions tend to include among the selection criteria a requirement that applicants be Christian.

The RSA believes that:

  • discriminating against people on the ground of religion is wrong,
  • there is no good reason why pastoral care services in Victorian Government Schools cannot be provided successfully by people who are not Christians, and
  • it is wrong for governments to give special benefits to religions such as creating jobs available only to religious people.

The RSA is undertaking a project to persuade politicians that NSCP funds should be used to provide student welfare and pastoral care services in a way that does not involve religious discrimination or religious favouritism.

3

Consultation with Victorian Government School Principals

The Rationalist Society sought the views of Victorian government school principals as part of its project to persuade politicians that National School Chaplaincy Program funds should be used to provide student welfare and pastoral care services in a way that does not involve religious discrimination or religious favouritism.

3.1 How we consulted

The RSA contacted Victorian government school principals during December 2018, inviting them to participate in the consultation. Contact email addresses were sourced from the Victorian Department of Education and Training website.

In total, invitations to participate in the consultation were sent to the principals of 2,287 Victorian government schools.

The text of the invitation email was as follows:

From: chaplainsconsultation@rationalist.com.au
To:
Date:
Subject:  National School Chaplaincy Program - Important Information

Dear Principal,

As you would know, most chaplains employed under the National Schools Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) are Christian. The purpose of this email is to canvass the views of Victorian school principals about the potential for non-religious chaplains.

The Rationalist Society of Australia is currently consulting with Victorian government schools about the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP).

We believe that providing student welfare services to school students is very worthwhile and plan to make representations to government about how the program might be improved. Under the NSCP, schools can apply to the Victorian Department of Education and Training for funding to pay for a school chaplain to provide student welfare services in the school. The Department’s information about the NSCP is here.

Schools that receive funding need to enter into a service agreement with one of the Chaplaincy Provider Organisations approved by the Department. Most of the approved Chaplaincy Provider Organisations will only hire people who are Christian to be chaplains to work in Victorian government schools.

To assist our consultation, we would be grateful if you could answer the following three questions. A reply email with short ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer is all that is required. But please feel free to provide more detail if you like.

1.    Before now, did you as Principal know that many of the Department’s approved Chaplaincy Provider Organisations will only hire people who are Christian to be chaplains to work in Victorian government schools?

2.    In your professional opinion as a Principal, when choosing an approved Chaplaincy Provider Organisation should a school take into account whether the provider organisation will only hire people from a particular religion?

3.    Is it important to you as a Principal that your school chaplain be a Christian?

Yours sincerely

Dr Meredith Doig OAM
President
Rationalist Society of Australia

3.2 Responses

A total of 62 responses were received during the consultation period. The consultation period lasted from 29 November 2018 when the first invitation emails were sent until 28 December 2018 when the data in this report were finalised.

In a small number of cases, separate responses were provided by the Principal and the Deputy Principal of the same Victorian government school. Those responses are treated in the reporting of results as separate responses because each response reflects the professional opinion of an individual school leader.

The RSA has chosen to report quotes from consultation responses anonymously. The original consultation response emails remain on file with the Rationalist Society.

3.3 What next?

The Rationalist Society will provide a copy of this Consultation Report to the Victorian Minister for Education and Training and the Victorian Department of Education and Training for their information and consideration. The RSA will also ask the Minister and Department to explain whether they intend to undertake any reforms to the way the National School Chaplaincy Program operates in Victorian government schools as a consequence of the views of principals.

The information in this Consultation Report will also contribute in other ways to the RSA’s project to persuade politicians that National School Chaplaincy Program funds should be used to provide student welfare and pastoral care services in a way that does not involve religious discrimination or religious favouritism.

4

Do Victorian Government School Principals know about religious discrimination in the NSCP?

Question 1:

Before now, did you as Principal know that many of the Department’s approved chaplaincy provider organisations will only hire people who are Christian to be chaplains to work in Victorian government schools?

4.1 Question 1 quantitative results

YesYes %NoNo %N/ANA %
Question 1: 46 74.2 14 22.6 2 3.2

4.2 Question 1 qualitative results

The following comments provided by respondents reflect the general flavour of comments provided by principals who answered Yes:

  • YES - clearly evident through the process and Key Selection Criteria
  • I am aware of the hiring arrangements of the program & the discussion around the provision of a chaplain has only heightened this divide in schools – we need student welfare / wellbeing officers and support and the current model is divisive
  • Yes this was very clear to all school communities who wanted to engage a Chaplain. Schools needed to consult with their community and ascertain this support before applying for a Chaplain.
  • Yes – have been aware of this and have employed Chaplains in the past – although vetted carefully to minimise the potential to proselytize. In both cases they have been good appointments due to the individuals involved – however my preference is for no compulsory religious affiliation. I am looking for a Youth Worker/Social worker – not a Chaplain.

The following comments provided by respondents reflect the general flavour of comments provided by principals who answered No:

  • No I didn’t know that but I’m not surprised.
  • I didn't know this, as principal I have not used the Chaplaincy Program.

5

Do Victorian Government School Principals think schools should take into account the existence of religious discrimination when deciding to participate in the NSCP?

Question 2:

In your professional opinion as a Principal, when choosing an approved chaplaincy provider organisation should a school take into account whether the provider organisation will only hire people from a particular religion?

5.1 Question 2 quantitative results

YesYes %NoNo %N/ANA %
Question 2: 38 61.3 21 33.9 3 4.8

5.2 Question 2 qualitative results

The following comments provided by respondents reflect the general flavour of comments provided by principals who answered Yes:

  • It’s one of the many reasons we don’t have a Chaplain.
  • YES -  think this narrow view of who is suitable for the role is reinforcing a position (i.e. Christianity is the only way to support kids) that is not tenable in many schools – it is an agenda that promotes religion in schools (despite what they say about the role and protocols)
  • Yes – in the sense that I would support any public state school avoiding, where possible, an organisation that applies a religious criterion when hiring for chaplain positions.
  • Our college council  believe that as a secular school we will not employ Christian (or any other religious) Chaplains to work in our school.  We would be happy to employ neutral non faith based trained workers to support our students.

The following comments provided by respondents reflect the general flavour of comments provided by principals who answered No:

  • NO – Psychologists, Social Workers and Counsellors would be suitable
  • Didn’t affect our decision - we went on the recommendations from other schools in the area as to who was the service provider.
  • Not sure which way round to answer this question – I do not believe the program should be even remotely attached to Chaplains or religious groups. The funding available for Chaplaincy programs should be made available to schools to employ welfare workers or psychologist specialists and should not be managed religious organisations of any sort.

6

Do Victorian Government School Principals think it is important that school chaplains be Christian?

Question 3:

Is it important to you as a Principal that your school chaplain be a Christian?

6.1 Question 3 quantitative results

YesYes %NoNo %N/ANA %
Question 3: 6 9.7 56 90.3 0 0.0

6.2 Question 3 qualitative results

The following comments provided by respondents reflect the general flavour of comments provided by principals who answered Yes:

  • Yes, the values align with how we should be respectful of each other. I believe a Christian Chaplain is most appropriate for our schools in Australia. I have been supported by the Chaplain who is a great listener, kind and thoughtful person. She has never espoused her beliefs onto me.

The following comments provided by respondents reflect the general flavour of comments provided by principals who answered No:

  • Government schools are secular. Religion should not be a part of government education at all.  Schools should be provided with properly trained and qualified counsellors. Religious organizations should not provide counsellors as they are generally not qualified appropriately. I would not employ a chaplain through a religious organization. I do not support the chaplaincy program in its current form
  • I will not employ a Chaplain as I do not want a person with any religious affiliations, Christian or otherwise, doing welfare work in my school. I would prefer to have the option of employing a non religious counsellor, but that is not available so I choose not to apply.
  • No. Conversely, as a principal in the secular state school system I believe that the religion or religious status of the school chaplain should hold no importance. I believe the funding of ‘chaplaincy’ programs – in so far as Chaplaincy Provider Organisations applying a religious criterion in its hiring of chaplains to work in schools – is a fundamental aberration of the appropriate government support for schools and students.

All the more reason.

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