School chaplains – God knows why: @e2mq173 comments

Errol Brandt

Errol Brandt

Citizen journalist at No Fibs
Errol writes No Fibs political column - From Left Field. He works as an Accountant within the manufacturing sector. He has a strong interest in sustainability and is a member of the ALP. His blog posts are an unusual mix of economic reality with social idealism.
Errol Brandt
 St. Johns Ashfield, Sydney

Wiki commons


The school chaplaincy program is wasteful and indefensible government policy. Not only is the basis fundamentally flawed, it is one of the few areas of the budget that has consistently increased in cost with no discernible outcome.

Prime Minister Howard announced a $90 million school chaplaincy scheme in 2006. Between 2007 and 2010 funding for the scheme increased to $165 million. Kevin Rudd pledged a further $42 million to extend the scheme until 2011. Prime Minister Gillard then raised the funding bar to $222 million.

Now the Abbott Hockey budget has allocated more than $245 million of public money to “pastoral care”.

Pastoral care, according to the University of Canberra, is a “holistic profession that delivers a service to staff and students who are experiencing difficulty in their personal and/or professional lives”.  Pastoral care advisers claim to “assist individuals find meaning in life and hope for their future, without determining a particular path or outcome, and are patient in allowing individuals to choose how and when they share the nature of their issues”.

Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi, an avid supporter of the program, was unable to provide a coherent defence of the policy when he appeared on ABC TV’s Q&A program recently, arguing that “it’s about informing students and providing pastoral care within, I think, a moral framework that is consistent with our laws and expectations”.

This vague and fluffy language not only indicates that ‘pastoral care’ has no concrete value to Australians, it leaves little doubt the program is a front door invitation to impose ‘Christian values’  onto our vast network of secular schools.

Strangely enough, the work of the school chaplain is better understood in the negative. There is a long list of things that they must not do under the school chaplaincy guidelines. Most importantly, chaplains are not permitted to provide “counselling” unless “appropriately qualified”.


School chaplaincy guidelines

How can a school chaplain provide support to a distressed student without engaging in some form of counselling?

Labor permitted secular workers, such as counsellors, to provide “pastoral care” but this has now been outlawed by the Abbott government. The only organisations that can provide pastoral care in 2014 are religious ones – often by those with no formal training in counselling.

This leads to the ludicrous situation where the only qualification a chaplain needs (i.e. religious education) is the one qualification the chaplain can’t use. It is like employing a plumber who is not permitted to touch the plumbing.

A Commonwealth ombudsman report in 2011 found examples where school chaplains were overstepping the mark – offering counselling and advice instead of “pastoral care”. The term “pastoral care” remains nebulous and the role and benefits of the program are, at best, questionable.

Throwing large sums of money at unqualified providers delivering ill-defined activities runs counter to the government’s own oft-stated approach to education.

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne says that he steadfastly supports outcomes-based approaches to education; simply spending money, he says, does not guarantee a good outcome. Yet this is exactly the situation Australia is in with school chaplains – federal money spent on a program to inform students about our country’s moral framework.

If this federal government were serious about its own principle of school autonomy then schools would be able to spend this money on professionally qualified counsellors – or religious chaplains. The government would also put mechanisms in place whereby the outcomes of this policy could be tested.

Yet this spending remains a nauseating waste, made all the more offensive by the broken promises on Gonski. Schools will face real cuts to services in the future – yet they will be given $20,000 cash per year to spend on unqualified people doing undefined activities for unquantifiable outcomes.

Only God knows why.


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  1. Although school chaplains I have met have seemed very pleasant and worthwhile people, comparisons between schools in similar neighbourhoods with and without chaplains would support asking a question as to why many fewer children and their parents opt for “non scripture” if there is a chaplain. Is the SRE opt-in system, for which we have legislation in NSW, being used correctly or is it becoming a virtual opt-out, either overtly or implicitly, in schools where there is a chaplain.

  2. MHWolf aka Vivian says:

    School chaplains – God knows why : Money the answer – God Gormann wants more for the privileged and God myth helps the money plunders anesthetize their victims

  3. Are you arguing that they should be permitted to do counselling when qualified?

    How to provide support without a degree? Listening, being a friend . . .

    The Chaplaincy program seems to have become the thing to hate on.

    • Errol Brandt says:

      I’m arguing that if the school wants a counsellor they should get a counsellor – not be required to take an unqualified religious person to provide “pastoral care” (whatever that means). Nobody seems to be able to explain to me what a school chaplain is actually allowed to do, so I have real doubts that this money is anything but a transfer from taxpayers to churches.

      The broader issue is the role of religion in our secular school system. There’s been no debate on this. What we have, from both Labor and Liberals, is a reintroduction of religion into state schools by stealth. That’s a debate we need to have.

  4. joy cooper says:

    If many of these school ‘chaplains’ are bright-eyed volunteers why is so much money needed? Is it just being channelled into organisations such as Access Ministries without any accounting of expenditure?

    Religion, of any type, has NO place in secular public schools. Those who wish for their children to receive religious instruction should send them to Sunday School or to private schools run by religious entities.

    Many years ago public schools had one or more teachers who also served as counsellors. That should still be the case or a trained counsellor used. The beauty of teachers being trained counsellors was that they were available when needed. Cannot imagine a volunteer ‘chaplain’ being able to be of a great deal of use at such times. May, in fact, cause more harm than good. .

  5. <

    (2) Attempting to convert students to a religion or set of beliefs through proselytizing/evangelising.

    WTF are they there for then ?

    If a school needs or wants Counsellors then thats what they should get government money for.

    Let the church schools provide their own people and let them include the cost in their fees.

    And then sit back and watch the church schools rip of the taxpayer ….. again.

  6. Laurie Forde says:

    Given yet another round of slaughter in the name of religion in Iraq, anyone who advocates subjecting children to any religious instruction in state schools is a raving lunatic.
    Religion usurps reason.

  7. Nicholas Coates says:

    In Canberra; Rort, like Ego, isn’t a dirty word.

    Thanks Abbot, Rudd, Gillard, Howar and Every Middle Class Tosser that voted for you.

  8. There is no God, it is a made up person, silly sausage…

  9. Perhaps it’s a test. If you have a chaplain, your school won’t be one of the ones that are closed due to the Abbott Government’s education cuts?

  10. Geoff Stoddart says:

    I can only refer to the religious classes I had at school where my only thoughts in the class was “why do I have to listen to this moron”, it was a at James Ruse, an attitude shared with most of my class mates, that was the 1970’s why is this still happening 40 years later