Religious communities are heavily involved in schooling. For example, the Islamic community has more than 40 full-time schools across Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in its Schools, Australia 2016 report released in February 2017, of the 9,414 schools in Australian, there were in 2016 1,042 independent schools, mostly religious, teaching 14.4 per cent of Australian students, including 18.4 per cent at secondary level. The Catholic system across Australia numbers 1,738 schools, representing 20.2 per cent of the total school population.
The history of school chaplaincy in schools is still to be written but its beginnings lie with the history of religious schools in Australia. But in government schools it has always been controversial, particularly since 2006 when the National School Chaplaincy was introduced during the Howard government when Julie Bishop was Minister for Education. The Victorian government distinguishes between two types of chaplaincies in government schools which have slightly different guidelines though the minimum qualifications are the same (see below): those funded under the National School Chaplaincy program and those funded via school funds or a community partnership (Victorian Department of Education and Training 2017). It is difficult to obtain figures as to how many chaplains there are funded across Australia and Victoria. Extrapolating from the data, there are probably about 600 – 700 school chaplains in Victoria.
In Victoria, chaplains are sponsored in schools by organisations such as the Catholic Education Office, ACCESS Ministries which covers the mainstream Protestant Churches (led by the Anglicans though the Uniting Church has pulled out of the arrangement), the Scripture Union of Victoria and various Jewish and Muslim organisations.
In 2008, under the National School Chaplaincy Program there were 2,850 chaplains with the Commonwealth Government giving grants of $20,000, $24,000 in remote areas. By 2011, they were required to have a Certificate IV in Youth Work, a Certificate IV in Pastoral Work or an equivalent qualification. In that year, it was broadened to include ‘a secular student well-being officer’. In September 2013, there were 2,339 chaplains and 512 student welfare officers but in the following May, the broadening was revoked by the Abbott government with the stipulation that all school chaplains be affiliated with a religion. Subsequently, as a result of a High Court decision, funds were not able to be funnelled directly to schools. Hence, they are now channelled through states and territories. Complaints were being received about the program, especially with accusations of proselytisation and of the condemnation of gay people during religious lessons.
Under the Victorian Government guidelines, chaplains are required to work as a member of the school’s well-being team, contribute to improving student engagement and connectedness, contribute to providing a safe, inclusive and supportive learning environment, provide pastoral care and guidance to students and operate within the school community and with external providers. They are not permitted to take advantage of their privileged position to proselytise, evangelise or advocate for a particular religious view or belief, nor are they to allow themselves to be placed in a compromising situation in recognition that in some situations confidentiality may be sought by the student, perform professional or other services for which they are not qualified nor conduct religious services or lead students or staff in religious observances unless agreed to by the principal such as in the case of a student or staff death.
According to its website (www.cctivictoria.org.au), the Council for Chaplains in Tertiary Institutions (CCTI) has been functioning since the 1950s and remains the official multi-faith agency responsible for accrediting chaplains for service in all higher education institutions in Victoria and accepted as such by the university authorities. It has twelve member religious groups represented on the Council. The following religious groups have 52 chaplains in Victorian universities: Anglican (13 chaplains), Catholic (11), Presbyterian (4), Greek Orthodox (4), Uniting Church (4), Islamic (4), Ecumenical (3) and Jewish (2) with one chaplain each from the following groups described as: Antiochian Orthodox, Australian Christian Churches, Buddhist, Orthodox and Wesleyan Methodist while the religious affiliation of two chaplains is unclear.
The CCTI as the accrediting body has close relationships both with the nominating faith bodies and the universities. It has a well-defined process for formally accrediting university chaplains. Normally chaplains are ordained religious functionaries. Whilst not absolute requirements, CCTI “will normally consider accrediting only persons with appropriate theological training and a recognized tertiary qualification which has given them experience of studying at a tertiary institution”. There must be a letter of support from the nominating faith body outlining the duration of the appointment and length of time each week the chaplain will spend on campus.
Most chaplains work part-time, while several work across universities, including one rabbi who is in three universities. The religious body is responsible for funding the position. While the Australian Catholic University has its own campus ministry with its own chaplains, CCTI coordinates chaplains at all universities: Deakin (10 chaplains), Federation (2), LaTrobe (13), Melbourne (6), Monash (10), RMIT (9) and Swinburne (5) while Victoria University has only one chaplain. It would seem that there are no chaplains at VET institutions.
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