National school chaplaincy program

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The National School Chaplaincy Program, known as the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program between 2011 and 2014, is an Australian federal government program which funds chaplains in Australian primary and secondary schools. The chaplains are to provide "support and guidance about ethics, values, relationships and spirituality".[1]


In Australia, chaplains in state schools have, controversially, been funded by the federal government, as well as local communities, since 2007. Chaplaincy services is provided by religious service companies which are predominantly Christian, though non-demoninational within Christianity, including Scripture Union Queensland, Genr8 Ministries in NSW and Access Ministries. On 27 September 2013 there were 2,339 chaplains and 512 Student Welfare workers in Australian schools.[2]

On 7 September 2011, as Education Minister, Garrett announced an alteration of the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) by making new chaplains have a "Certificate IV in Youth Work, Pastoral Care or an equivalent qualification"; previously no formal qualifications were required.[3] The alterations also offered schools the opportunity to employ, instead of "a religious support worker" (chaplain), a "secular student well-being officer", following concerns over the appropriateness of having a religious worker in a public school.[4] Previously schools were only able to hire a secular welfare worker under the program if they could demonstrate that their efforts to find an ordained chaplain had failed.[3] In May 2014, however, the provision to allow secular student well-being officers was removed, meaning all chaplains must be affiliated with a religion.[5]

In the 2014 federal budget, the government provided $243.8 million, over a four year period, to continue the NSCP.[6]

High Court challenges[edit]

2012 High Court challenge[edit]

The High Court case Williams v The Commonwealth of Australia & Ors [2012] HCA 23 (also known as the "School chaplains case") [7] was related to executive prerogative and spending under section 61 of the Australian Constitution. In June 2012, the High Court held that the Commonwealth's funding agreement for the program is invalid.[8]

2014 High Court challenge[edit]

A second High Court challenge, against the amended program, was mounted by the 2012 litigant and was heard by the court in May 2014. The High Court judgment was handed down on 19 June 2014.[9] The focus of this case being whether the federal government has the power to fund the NSCP directly through local organisations.[10] This second challenge also succeeded in the High Court[11][12] so that over $154 million in funding hitherto paid to a local organisation in Queensland became debts. However, the federal government responded by waiving that debt and making a commitment to circumvent the High Court ruling by continuing with the budgeted $245 million spending on the NSCP.[12]

Religious representation[edit]

While the NSCP is formally not religion-specific, the chaplains employed under the program are disproportionately Christian. In 2011, one study stated that 96.5% of the chaplains employed under the program were Christian, while only 64% of Australians identified as Christian (based on the 2006 census). By contrast, 0.01% of the chaplains were secular, whereas 19% of Australians identified as having no religion. Buddhism, the second largest religion, is followed by 2% of Australians, but only 0.03% of the school chaplains. Islam was followed by 1.7% of Australians, but only 0.9% of school chaplains. Judaism is the only religion which had a roughly proportionate representation, with 0.45% of the Australian population following the religion, and 0.5% of school chaplains.[13] In December 2014 the 623 schools who chose to hire a secular welfare worker will either have to hire a chaplain instead or go without either, after it was announced in May 2014 that the provision to allow secular welfare workers would be removed, changing the definition of chaplain to someone ordained, commissioned or endorsed by a recognised religious institution.[14][15]


The NSCP has been controversial since in was announced by John Howard in 2006. The NSCP is most commonly opposed on the grounds that chaplains are under-qualified to deal with vulnerable young people,[16] that it is not appropriate to have a religious worker in a public school,[4] and that the money spent on the program is better needed elsewhere, such as to help children with disabilities.[17] A July 2011 report by the Commonwealth Ombudsman recommended changes in guidelines after it was found that some chaplains provided one-on-one counselling when not qualified to do so.[18] Complaints have also been made that chaplains have used their position to recruit children to Christianity in breach of government guidelines. The number of complaints specifically regarding proselytising was 34 in 2011, 5 in 2012 and 1 in 2013.[19] Complaints have also been made that chaplains have handed out literature stating homosexuality is wrong and that condoms were not effective for birth control and promoted promiscuity.[16] Overall complaints about any aspect of the chaplaincy program that were made to the relevant department was 93 in 2011, 51 in 2012 and 34 in 2013. Of the 85 between 2012 and 2013, 60% could not be substantiated.[20] An online petition opposing the 2014 funding increase for the NSCP was signed by over 180,000 people.[21]

In 2010 whilst she was Prime Minister, Julia Gillard voiced her support for the NSCP.[22] In 2011 Peter Garrett publicly stated his support for the program,[23] though in a 2014 book review he stated "the line between chaplains acting to support students in the provision of general pastoral care and proselytising was too easily crossed”.[24][25] Other politicians supporting the program include Senator Eric Abetz.[26]

The Australian Psychological Society has repeatedly criticised the NSCP.[16][17][27] The director of the Black Dog Institute has expressed concern at the funding of chaplaincy over programs backed by scientific evidence. [28] Associate Professor Andrea Reupert, director of Monash University's mental health in schools project described a chaplain's comments to a student suffering from an eating disorder that she was "hungering for the word of the Lord" as inappropriate and appalling.[28] The program is also opposed by the Australian Education Union,[17] and the New South Wales Teachers Federation.[29]

Both the NSW Catholic Education Commission[29] and the Anglican Education Commission[30] do not have a position on chaplains in NSW government schools.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program". Australian Department of Education. 
  2. ^ "National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program Statistics". 
  3. ^ a b Collins, Sarah-Jane (September 8, 2011). "New choice for school chaplaincy program". The Age. Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Tucker, Breanna (8 September 2011). "Chaplaincy change a crisis of faith". Canberra Times. Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  5. ^ Ferrari, Justine (May 14, 2014). "Top spending outlay offers $245m for religious advisers in schools". The Australian. Retrieved May 19, 2014. 
  6. ^ "School chaplains get $243m over 4 years". Nine MSN. May 14, 2014. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ "High Court upholds chaplaincy challenge". ABC News (Australia). 20 June 2012. Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  9. ^ AustLII: Williams v Commonwealth of Australia [2014] HCA 23 (19 June 2014)
  10. ^ Byrne, Elizabeth (May 6, 2014). "School chaplaincy case: Queensland father again challenges validity of program in High Court". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved July 10, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Commonwealth funding of school chaplaincy program struck down in High Court". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 
  12. ^ a b Hurst, Daniel (19 June 2014). "School chaplains funding struck down by high court". The Guardian Australia. The Guardian. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  13. ^ "School chaplains not representative". The Australian. News Limited. 12 February 2011. Retrieved 2 May 2014. 
  14. ^ John Stewart (2014-12-02). "Non-religious chaplains may not be funded under new chaplaincy program in 2015". Lateline. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 
  15. ^ Knott, Matthew (May 21, 2014). "Chaplaincy program leaves secular workers with no more than a prayer". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved May 26, 2014. 
  16. ^ a b c "School Christian chaplain program puts kids 'at risk', warn counsellors and psychologists". June 28, 2011. Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  17. ^ a b c Miletic, Daniella (May 14, 2014). "Education union blasts $245m budget funding for school chaplains". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved May 19, 2014. 
  18. ^ Allan Asher (July 2011). "Administration of the National School Chaplaincy Program - Report by the Commonwealth Omburdsman" (PDF). Commonwealth Ombudsman. 
  19. ^ Hurst, Daniel (9 June 2014). "Complaints about school chaplaincy program on the decline, figures show". The Guardian. Retrieved June 6, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Untitled document" (PDF). Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  21. ^ Stark, Jill (June 8, 2014). "Safe Schools program, chaplaincy scheme don't mix: experts". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved July 10, 2014. 
  22. ^ Stephens, Scott (August 10, 2010). "The Prime Minister puts her faith in chaplaincy". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  23. ^ Garrett, Peter (September 8, 2011). "Public puts its trust in chaplaincy program". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  24. ^ Peter Garrett (30 May 2014). "FREE, COMPULSORY AND SECULAR". Sydney Review of Books. 
  25. ^ "Former education minister Peter Garrett says state schools ‘not capable of delivering comparatively thorough education’". May 30, 2014. 
  26. ^ Kimbal, Chris (16 May 2014). "Abetz Regrets". ABC. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  27. ^ Dennehy, Kate (August 15, 2010). "Kids need more healers, not chaplains: psychologist group". Brisbane Times. Retrieved May 19, 2014. 
  28. ^ a b Primrose Riordan (1 September 2014). "Black Dog Institute rejects dollars for chaplains proposal". Canberra Times. Fairfax Media. 
  29. ^ a b Smith, Alexandra (June 24, 2014). "Anglicans: No chaplains, scripture in public schools". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved June 24, 2014. 
  30. ^ "Religion vital to Australian education". Sydney Anglicans. 25 June 2014. Retrieved 27 June 2014.