Review of Chaplaincy in State Schools in Australia

The first chaplain was appointed to a government school in 1955. Since that time, chaplaincy has become more common in State schools around Australia. However, chaplaincy in State schools has grown hugely in the last 3 years from around 650 to more than 1870 chaplains. In 2006, the National School Chaplaincy Program was initiated by the Federal Government offering funding for chaplains. Approximately 2712 schools received funding of which 1915 were government schools and 797 were Catholic or independent schools. The tasks of chaplains, as described by the Federal government, were to support students in exploring their spirituality, providing guidance on religious, values and ethical matters, and facilitating access to helping agencies in the community. They were also to assist school counsellors and staff in the provision of welfare services, providing guidance on issues of human relationships and support in cases of bereavement, family breakdown and other crisis and loss situations, and to provide on-going support for individual students and staff where necessary.

A high proportion of chaplains are male (41%) compared with teachers (26%) and health and welfare support workers (29%). Many chaplains are young with 28 per cent being under 30 years of age and only 23 per cent 50 years of age or older. Many bring to the job experience in youth or children’s work or church associated work. Twenty-one per cent have been teachers and 15 per cent are professionally trained counsellors.
Most chaplains work part-time. The money offered by the Federal Government contributes to two days employment per week. For a school to employ a chaplain for longer, it, or the community, must come up with additional funding. The average number of hours a chaplain is employed in a school was 19 hours. Twenty-six per cent of chaplains served more than one school.

Principals were asked to assess on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being excellent, how effective chaplains were in various areas of their work. Asked about the most important contribution chaplains had made, most principals wrote of how they provided pastoral care in a non-judgemental way. Secondly, they spoke of modelling and teaching moral values and, thirdly, in creating and nurturing ties with the community. Many chaplains saw an important part of their work as building relationship skills. In many schools, there had been crises such as the death of a student and in such instances the chaplain had had a special and valued role.

Eighty-four per cent of principals indicated that feedback from parents about chaplaincy had been strongly positive or mostly positive. Ten per cent said they had received no feedback. Just 0.3 per cent of principals said that they had mostly negative feedback. In interviews, parents said they appreciated the pastoral care and good moral influence of the chaplains on their children.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 20, No. 1, Pages 7-10

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