ACT News

Recruitment drive for school chaplains as secular staff make way

The leading provider of chaplains in the ACT has launched a recruitment drive, as more schools register for services and secular welfare staff face redundancy.

Peter James, chief executive of the Scripture Union, which co-ordinates the National School Chaplaincy Association's program in the ACT, said four more schools had registered for chaplains in recent months.

"We're looking for five new chaplains in ACT schools, as we had one person move on to new things at the end of last year," he said.

The recruitment drive comes as the Abbott government continues to push ahead with a religious-only school chaplaincy scheme.

The federal government was forced to redesign its $244 million scheme after the High Court ruled it invalid in June and in a bid to prevent another legal challenge, the federal government will provide funding to state and territory governments to administer the scheme.

Mr James said he had noticed an increasing number of schools registering for government-funded chaplains across the country in recent months.

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"The ACT has started off a fairly modest base, with only 47 places allocated for funding, although we've already seen some new schools applying for chaplains," he said.

A School Chaplaincy ACT spokesman said many schools in the territory made passionate applications to retain funding for their existing chaplains.  

"One application was 52 pages long, filled with evidence, comments, letters from students, staff and parents who valued the work the chaplain did in their school," he said. 

"We received a very quick response from the Education and Training Directorate to let us know that all our current 17 schools were successful in their applications, plus four of our new schools were receiving funding for a chaplaincy service."

But the federal government's changes to school counselling workers means the jobs of up 25 welfare officers in the ACT remain uncertain or under threat.

Ruth Pickard was one school-based welfare worker who would have lost her job this year because of the reforms, if it weren't for a new opportunity with her school.

"I was quite fortunate in that I remained at the Blue Gum Community School in a different role, running their after-school care program, after I graduated with a diploma of secondary teaching from UC," she said.

"But that doesn't mean what has happened isn't pretty destructive for school communities. Those positions are no longer being filled by people with a diverse range of skill sets and no religious agenda."

Ms Pickard, who was deployed by the Australian Student Welfare Association, said her former counselling role had not been filled and teachers were required now to share the pastoral workload.

Australian Student Welfare Association director Ross Sutherland said many ACT schools would "lose their staff member and not be able to apply for the chaplaincy program due to a lack of community support". 

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