On Friday, new Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare, confirmed that schools will be given a choice of whether to hire a religious or secular pastoral care worker through the $60m-a-year National Chaplaincy Program.
While the move has been broadly welcomed across Australia’s education sector, the nation’s peak teacher’s union is calling for greater support for students who need extra help at school.
The Australian Education Union, which has long opposed the National Chaplaincy Program, said it is currently only available to chaplains endorsed by a religious institution and that public schools “are no place for religious proselytising and instruction”.
“The AEU has always said that students and families who need support should be able to access evidence-based mental health, social and wellbeing assistance from qualified professionals. Further, this must be backed in by fully funding schools so that they have the resources necessary for teaching and learning,” AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe said.
“We welcome this initial step from Education Minister Jason Clare and urge the Federal Government to go further.”
Haythorpe said the program was “a stalking horse for an ideological push to get Christianity into public schools”.
“This was demonstrated by Federal Government data that showed the program almost exclusively involved the use of Christian chaplains, despite the diversity of religions and cultural practices in Australia,” she said.
“We encourage the Federal Government to abolish public funding for religious involvement in public schools in favour of investments in appropriate student wellbeing and mental health programs, professional development for teachers and to employ qualified school counsellors in every public school across the nation.”