School chaplaincy – a challenge

  (04 September 10)
  by Greg Spearritt

School chaplains, in my own experience as a parent and a teacher, can make a positive difference to a school community. That experience is limited to one school, however, where the chaplain is willing to follow the guidelines about proselytism and happens to have some positive personal qualities that seem to allow him to fulfil his task well.


That doesn’t appear to be the case everywhere; indeed, the concern is such in some schools, by some parents, that a constitutional challenge [direct link here] to the school chaplaincy program is shortly to come before the High Court. The Australian Psychological Society, apparently, also has serious concerns about the lack of requirement for chaplains to have any kind of qualifications relating to counselling or mental health.


Chrys Stevenson on her blog (Gladly the Cross-eyed Bear) puts a forthright view as to why the school chaplaincy program is a very bad thing. She makes some good points.


I have a question, however, which goes to the core of the status of religion in our society. At least in primary schools in Queensland (and I’ve worked in a good many), atheism just isn’t considered polite to mention. It’s as if it would frighten the children. The official line, if there is one, emanating from the school administration is mildly pro-religion. Religious instruction and school chaplaincy are encouraged; talk about God and occasional prayers on school assemblies and at camps are not uncommon. Never once have I heard atheism alluded to, let alone directly mentioned except in private conversations among staff or parents.


By virtue of this residual respect for religion in schools – which remains, despite the multitude of scandals involving clergy – a chaplain has immediate and largely unquestioned esteem in the school community. If chaplains were replaced by qualified counsellors I expect those counsellors would blend into the mix of professionals – teachers, support staff, guidance officers – and have a very hard job attaining the same status and visibility as the much less-qualified chaplains currently do. Perceived motivation is surely part of this mix: the ‘chappie’ is seen as having a deep personal commitment to the kids and parents (even if ultimately it’s about subtle evangelism) rather than being there chiefly for the promise of a regular pay-packet.


Given this, is there a way to adequately replace chaplains with someone non-religious and qualified who can be seen as worthwhile and effective to do the job of ‘being there’ to support students and parents? It wouldn’t be very financially rewarding; would there be enough takers to want to do it (in the absence of some religious motivation)? Would humanists step up to the plate?




I suspect that it's more to do with the human qualities of the person rather than their being chaplains that is the attraction for students. I'd like to see a study dome of just what it is that a chaplain can achieve with students that a counsellor with the proper characteristics is unable to reproduce.

Posted by Scott McKenzie

Knowing well a person who has worked for SU my concern is the power and money it gives t these sponsoring organisations who are more conservative and demanding than the chaplains themselves, demanding work from the chaplains on holidays and adherance to very conservative theology. I would give money to chaplains directly but never when SU has to be the employing agent

Posted by Anon

The Humanist Society of Victoria has managed to get their Harry Gardner accredited as a School Chaplain. But...
Details are on their website -
Click on 'Ethics News'.

Posted by David Miller

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