A West Australian school whose community voted to remove the religious requirement from chaplaincy now faces extra obstacles in employing a secular person for the role, including because of a lack of secular providers.
In the latest episode of The Secular Agenda podcast on the topic of schools having a secular option in the National School Chaplaincy Program, Rosemary Lynch, of the WA Public School Alliance, reveals that the Maylands Peninsula Primary School has been unable to fill the pastoral care role.
Early this year, the school’s parents and carers voted overwhelmingly to make the taxpayer-funded chaplaincy positions subject to equal opportunity employment – meaning that they could no longer be only for people “of faith”. The outcome later inspired all the state’s P&C groups to support a call for governments funding the employment of professional non-clinical student welfare officers instead of religious chaplains.
Ms Lynch (pictured) says the Maylands Peninsula Primary School has also recently lost top-up funding for the pastoral care role from its local council.
“So pretty much since the school has asked a few questions, things have gone a bit south for them in terms of that,” she says.
The WA Public School Alliance welcomes federal education minister Jason Clare’s commitment to giving schools a choice of a secular option, but remains concerned little in effect will change.
Under the chaplaincy program in Western Australia, public schools that want a pastoral carer or chaplain have to source them through external service providers instead of hiring them directly. The two largest providers Christian labor-hire firms that only employ Christians.
Ms Lynch says the third provider currently does not have the infrastructure to support schools wanting to make a change to secular welfare workers in line with the new government policy.
“So whilst the rules around chaplains – no longer required to be ‘of faith’ – have changed, by default in our state the status quo will be retained unless the procurement hiring system changes,” she says.
The podcast also features Peter Martin, a former principal of the Port Melbourne Primary School and now councillor at the City of Port Phillip. In his role as principal, he opposed the religious requirement in the chaplaincy program and struck an agreement with a local multi-faith group to provide a secular youth worker.
“I was trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I was very very uncomfortable with the concept of anyone coming into my school and promoting religious ideas in school hours,” he says.
“I was lucky to find a group who were very open and transparent about the fact that they didn’t wish to use the chaplaincy program to push forward any particular ideas.”
The RSA has warned Mr Clare and his state and territory counterparts that, without reform to the existing outsourcing arrangements, continued dominance of religious-based labour-hire organisations would leave schools with little choice in who they employ.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman