Chaplains in schools: how Australians were misled with false statistics

Following revelations on ABC Lateline of a creepy sex focused chaplain, lurking on the internet, who wanted to “spank” a student’s mate one may wonder just how this intellectual absurdity has gotten as far as it has. Well, I’ll get to that. The present programme – which is not wanted by the majority of schools – only exists through mischievous sleight of hand and simple lies fed to a gullible media.

It’s indeed an intellectual absurdity and a thunderously immoral abuse of students and tax payer monies that former High Court judge Michael Kirby recently said was ”offensive to the historical Australian principles of education”. He also described development of religious schools, to the detriment of public schools, under the Howard government schemes as, ”most inimical to the development of Australia as a harmonious society”.

Howard’s ill thought out attempt to resurrect God in education was doomed to fail and outrage Australians in exactly the manner it has. Christianity in Australia today includes multiple expressions. Unfortunately those most likely to succeed in political lobbying hold bizarre, out there views of persecution and missionary duties peppered with bigotry and discrimination. Let’s stick to chaplains, which all started in October 2006 under John Howard who promised $90 million for three years. Before one could say, “Thou Shalt Not Steal”, it had boomed out to $165 million.

As the glorious day of expunging the programme drew close in 2009 The National School Chaplaincy Association populated by the most aggressive proselytising evangelists, hatched a plan for survival. They decided to survey school principals where NSCA employed federally funded chaplains worked, and by hook or by crook would use the results to commit the Rudd government to further funding. Straight off the NSW Education Union wanted nothing to do with the survey:

NSW Education Dept. Statement

Now, there were 2,712 schools with NSCA member federally funded chaplains at that time. In terms of the available sample to be surveyed by the NSCA it follows 2,712 = 100%.

Here’s where the deception begins. Only 1,626 schools with NSCA employed federally funded chaplains were sent the survey. Why? What criteria were used for inclusion and exclusion? Nonetheless much less than half of The Chosen – 688 responses from principles – were returned to the NSCA. That’s only 25% of of the qualified sample of 2,712, across Australia. Just how much weight can such a small sample carry? Not to worry. Their final report is self congratulatory, impossibly positive and rather vague. There are entirely subjective accounts of case studies and a bullet list rating out of 10 for how chaplains assisted development of students, relating to morality, community, social inclusion, peer relationships and other roles professional counsellor’s should be managing. Regrettably the report did not set off the alarm bells about what was clear psychological meddling with students development, to the satisfaction of Christian educators and lobbyists.

The highest score – 8.6 was “for providing an opportunity for students to talk through issues”. I kid you not. They were even afforded a 7 for “improving relationships between students and their families”. Chaplains “deal with a wide range of issues, but most frequently with behaviour management and social relationship issues… [and] also deal with ‘big picture’ and spiritual issues as students raise them. In the case studies, there were no occasions reported where chaplains had pushed their own beliefs…”. All this from a returned survey sample of 25% of schools with federally funded chaplains. You can download the NSCA Report here. After more non evidence based claims (refuted by Australian psychological experts) that chaplains serve some vital role in helping with family breakdown, bereavement and more, the final paragraph reads;

Ninety-eight per cent of principals said that chaplaincy is important and want government funding to continue. Many principals want the funding to be expanded to ensure all schools can access the program and that large schools, schools in low socio-economic areas and other schools with high needs can have greater access to the services of chaplains. Chaplaincy is a unique service that is proving to be of great value to students, staff, parents, and their schools. It is proving effective in offering care, building the social skills of students, and encouraging responsible behaviour. It is of great long-term value to the wellbeing (sic) of Australian communities.

Time to roll out the spin on what may have been a 24.5 % positive response [A miraculous 98% of the 25% of all schools with NSCA federally funded chaplains who returned the survey]. First up was NSCA member and head survey author Reverend Philip Hughes who told ABC’s PM programme on October 13th, 2009 that 97% of school principles supported chaplains in schools [Audio: 2 min 30]. Not long after Alex Somley federal Liberal member for Fairfax QLD “referred the PM” to the impending end of the NSCP which was “supported by over 95% of the participating principles in Australia.”

On October 30th, The Australian Christian Lobby’s Chief of staff, Lyle Shelton employed that irksome online news video caper of self congratulation that the ACL have used to distort and mislead for years. The Edith Cowan University (where Rev. Philip Hughes was based) was “commissioned”, Shelton claimed, by the NSCA to survey schools and found 97% of principles were in favour of these great male and female “chappies” saving kids from the toils of reality.

On November 12th, then Deputy PM Julia Gillard was reported in Fairfax as saying the government would consider funding for the chaplaincy programme. The moral guardians in the Australian Christian Lobby leapt to NSCA defence and on November 20th, 2009 published Christian Lobby highlights role of chaplains in helping young people at risk – written by their PR manager no less. As all this had been unfolding Rudd was being pimped and primed for his appearance at the ACL’s National Conference in Canberra. The  November 21st 2009 conference went well for the Christian Lobby who immediately published Christian Lobby welcomes Rudd Government support for school chaplaincy:

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) today welcomed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s clear support for the school chaplaincy program and the Federal Government’s decision to extend funding for the program until the end of the 2011 school year. ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace said the Prime Minister’s announcement to the ACL National Conference in Canberra today was warmly welcomed by the many church and denominational leaders in attendance, as well as grass-roots Christians.

“Mr Rudd spoke of his clear and long-standing commitment to the school chaplaincy program, dating back to its beginnings in Queensland. He has a strong appreciation of the valuable role chaplains are playing in helping both school students and their families in a wide variety of situations,” Mr Wallace said.

“We congratulate the Government on its commitment of $42 million in funding over the 2010 and 2011 school years – representing an extra year’s funding over what had previously been allocated.

“The Prime Minister indicated today that during that time the Government plans to consult with the community as to how best to shape chaplaincy and pastoral care programs for the period beyond.

But that still wasn’t good enough. A mere five days later, November 26th, Peter Dixon Liberal Senator for QLD tabled a pro chaplain petition which read in part, “Figures show that 97% of school principles who have engaged a chaplain, strongly support the programme and recognise the benefits for their school communities”. The same day in the Senate Liberal Senator for QLD, Brett Mason accosted labor Senator, Kim Carr. “Given that over 2,700 schools have chaplains and over 97% of those schools think that chaplains have had a positive influence on their school, why has the Rudd government chosen… [to only promise funding for one year]”.

Later, Liberal senator for Tasmania, a co-architect of Howard’s initial three year scheme, Guy Barnett, threw all caution to the wind offering, “2,700 schools have a chaplain…. a survey was undertaken recently and 97% of the principles of those schools said ‘Yes it is a programme worth keeping and we really appreciate it’“. My what an extraordinary coincidence! They all happened to say just that? But just when you thought it couldn’t get more patently absurd, Barnett says, “This government… [have] already done one review and they know the results are fantastic, a 97% result – you cannot get much better than that”.

November 26th 2009 was a darn good day for the 24.5% of apparently positive results received by the NSCA as part of their review of their own gig. It was shouted high and low that school chaplaincy was a programme beloved by 97% of principles. What’s more, Labor now seem to have done the survey and appeared to have been sitting on this glowing – or should that be “fantastic” figure. So surely they must act on this revelation – even if facts did show it to be a most unscientific 24.5% garnered by the national chaplaincy body that stood to gain the most, thus having the greatest conflict of interest.

Eventually, Tim Mender of Scripture Union QLD made it onto Sunrise claiming… you guessed it. “The proof’s in the pudding. Recent research said that, er, 98% of school principles that had a school chaplain wanted this funding to continue because of the positive effect they’re having on the school community and you can’t argue with those facts”. Facts? Angle it any way you wish dear reader, but this is bald faced lying. Mender was privy to the survey in it’s entirety and almost certainly played a hand in how to “market” it to appropriate lobbyists.

Well, we know Gillard deposed Rudd in June 2010. As late as July 27th 2010 National Federal Member for Fisher Peter Slipper, was laying into Gillard offering, “Even the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described school chaplains as the ‘glue’ that holds school communities together. “A lack of continued support for this project would simply be another Labor backflip.” Twelve days later Gillard promised $222 million to “boost” the number of chaplains. We’ll never know Rudd’s full intention on funding chaplains past 2010. He was a critic of the Liberal style religious right “hijacking” of values when in opposition. It’s unlikely but perhaps possible that he’d have kept a better reign on it than presently. Certainly the disgraceful mantra of adhering to “guidelines, guidelines, guidelines” from Peter Garrett in defence of both chaplains and evangelising religious education volunteers is almost laughable.

These guidelines are being trampled upon, our children and education system exploited by the religious right and the separation of church and state – apparently safe under present “guidelines” – is a mockery. It is axiomatic the entire system needs a thorough overhaul. Chaplains must be removed from the public education system and religious education must be kept outside curriculum hours.

I’m 97% sure that’s a sensible idea.

Peter Garrett defends the present system in response to the above video

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About @advodiaboli
I'm not really a cast iron flying pig.

4 Responses to Chaplains in schools: how Australians were misled with false statistics

  1. Andrew Skegg says:

    A good summary of the situation regarding the National School Chaplaincy Program. If you want to know more, please visit http://bit.ly/stopnscp and join our Facebook group http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_161101063938816&ap=1

  2. Pingback: The “weeping sore” of the National School Chaplaincy Programme « Losing In The Lucky Country

  3. Pingback: Peter Garrett welcomes changes to school chaplaincy program « Losing In The Lucky Country

  4. Pingback: Ross Cameron’s tantrum over changes to school chaplaincy on The Drum « Losing In The Lucky Country

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