The National School Chaplaincy Programme, between 2011 and 2014 known as the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Programme, is an Australian federal government programme which funds chaplains in Australian primary and secondary schools. The chaplains are to provide “support and guidance about ethics, values, relationships and spirituality”, and is based on pastoral care, not religious instruction.
The programme is funded by the Australian Government and delivered by the states and territories under the Project Agreement. The programme is delivered in accordance with the terms of the Intergovernmental Agreement Federal Financial Relations. A requirement of this agreement is an evaluation of the National School Chaplaincy Programme.
This report presents the main findings of the National School Chaplaincy Programme evaluation research survey of principals, chaplains, parents and students in schools participating in the National School Chaplaincy Programme in 2016.
The Australian Government committed $243.8 million to deliver the National School Chaplaincy Programme (NSCP). The programme assists over 3,000 schools to engage the services of a school chaplain. The aim of the NSCP is to support the emotional wellbeing of Australian school students by providing pastoral care services and strategies that support the broader school community.
The programme is operating over four years in the 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 school years.
The programme is funded by the Australian Government and delivered by the states and territories under the Project Agreement. The programme is delivered in accordance with the terms of the Intergovernmental Agreement Federal Financial Relations. A requirement of this agreement is an evaluation of the NSCP.
Under the agreement, each state and territory invited all schools (primary and secondary) in its jurisdiction to apply for NSCP funding. Each state and territory formed a cross sector panel consisting of government, Catholic and independent school representatives, to select and prioritise schools for NSCP funding. The programme commenced at the beginning of the 2015 school year.
The Australian Government Department of Education and Training required an evaluation to research the effectiveness of the NSCP in terms of how it is delivered, utilised and viewed within government, Catholic and independent schools. The overarching objective of this research was to understand the effectiveness of the NSCP, how the programme is implemented and, in particular, explore how the programme supports the emotional wellbeing of students and the broader school community. Feedback was gathered from principals, chaplains, students and parents.
Measurement of the outcome of ‘emotional wellbeing’ among students and the broader school community is a multi-dimensional factor which is highly individual and, as such, difficult to measure. In order to address the research question, the research objectives were deconstructed using a logical framework (provided on page 17). This established the grounding for all lines of enquiry from the outset, and underpins the analysis and reporting of recommendations.
This report presents the main findings of the National School Chaplaincy Programme (NSCP) evaluation research survey of principals, chaplains, parents and students in schools participating in the NSCP in 2016. The survey, which is the first formal evaluation of the programme, was conducted in October / November 2016. Following the survey, parent focus groups were held across Australia from December 2016 to February 2017.
The overarching objective of this research was to understand the effectiveness of the NSCP and, in particular, explore how the programme is implemented to support the emotional wellbeing of students and the broader school community. More specifically, the objectives were to understand:
- How has the NSCP been delivered across different schools?
- How is the NSCP currently viewed?
- What are the outcomes of the NSCP?
The surveys were sent to over 3000 schools participating in the NSCP in 2016, incorporating government, Catholic and independent schools.1 Only schools participating in the NSCP in 2016 were invited to complete the surveys. Surveys were not provided to non-participating schools.
Kantar Public provided survey links to the Australian Government Department of Education and Training, who distributed onto participating schools via state and territory education authorities. Principals were email the survey links for completion and email distribution to chaplains and parents. Chaplains and parents were invited to complete the online survey. Parents were asked to content to survey their child (aged 12 – 17 years) and where consent was provided the child was invited to complete the survey. All surveys were open for a period of two-weeks and participation was voluntary.
A total of n=2147 participants took part in the survey. This included n=477 principals, n=498 chaplains, n=1038 parents and n=134 students. The surveys were conducted from 31st October to 25th November 2016. Based on the number of principals who responded it is estimated n=477 schools took part in the survey out of a total of n=3288 participating schools1 a response rate of approximately 15%.
A sample of n=23 participants (parents) took part in the qualitative sessions. The qualitative sessions were conducted from 15th December 2016 to 1st February 2017. The findings in this report are based on responses to the survey and on feedback gained from the qualitative sessions. As participation was voluntary, parents and students who had no exposure to or contact with the Chaplaincy Programme may have been less likely to respond.
Conclusions from the Report
Overall, there is a positive sentiment towards the NSCP and the programme was described with positive regard. Students were considered to have a high opinion of the programme and to benefit from having someone to provide additional support, someone to talk to and someone that is a ‘neutral’ person (not a teacher or parent) they can confide in.
The NSCP is delivered through a wide range of activities/initiatives which encompasses different types of support, from formal support (e.g. one-on-one individual sessions), informal support (e.g. lunchtime activities), delivery of specific programmes (e.g. breakfast clubs) to assisting with out of school activities (e.g. school camps). Activities/initiatives delivered across schools were largely consistent, and worked towards providing students and the school community with an accessible figure who provides support, encouragement and guidance.
The NSCP was considered to be effective in dealing with a range of issues, and most effective in dealing with issues regarding sense of purpose and self-esteem, building peer relationships and social inclusion. The programme was rated to perform extremely well in supporting the emotional and social wellbeing of students, which strongly aligns with the overarching objectives and aims of the NSCP.
Awareness of chaplaincy services is high, however, there is limited knowledge of the role of chaplains. There is an opportunity for schools to address the knowledge gap that exists among parents, by increasing awareness of the programme itself, and the chaplain’s role, and sharing/increasing communication on the activities/initiatives that are being implemented to support the wellbeing of students and the school community.
Overall, few disadvantages were associated with the NSCP. There were a proportion of parents and students (particularly from government schools) who preferred religious views were not shared. This was driven by the perception that chaplaincy services included sharing or teaching of religious views and values, and was therefore felt better suited to private schools or religious families32.
The main suggested improvements for the programme included increasing the availability/time allocation of chaplains. A number of principals, chaplains, parents and students all communicated the need for the chaplain/chaplaincy services to be more available, available for more days or in a full-time capacity to adequately service and meet the needs of the school community.
In conclusion, the evaluation indicates the NSCP is considered to effectively support the wellbeing of students and the broader school community. The programme is regarded as important for the school and is well supported by the school community (i.e. by principals, chaplains, parents and by students). There is strong support for the programme to be continued.