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Education Training, Religion

Qualifications, not religion, should decide who provides pastoral care in public schools

The Australia Institute 2 mins read

MEDIA RELEASE | EMBARGOED until 12.05am Saturday, 2 December 2023

New research from the Australia Institute and the Rationalist Society of Australia has found that most Australians are unaware that the federal government funds a program under which pastoral care workers in public schools are hired based on religion.

After being told of the program, two in three Australians agree that qualifications and experience – rather than religious endorsements – should determine who gets hired for the job.

The research also finds that most Australians support their state or territory hiring pastoral support workers directly rather than through an agency, which may impose religious conditions on their employment.

Key findings:

  • 71% of Australians do not know the Federal Government funds a program in which people providing pastoral care services to students are hired based on religion.

  • 66% of Australians agree that pastoral care workers in public schools should be employed based on qualifications and experience only and not be required to have the endorsement of a religious group (18% disagree).

  • 56% of Australians support their state or territory hiring pastoral support workers directly rather than through a third-party agency, which may impose religious belief or faith conditions on employment (16% oppose and 28% don’t know or are unsure).

“Since 2006, millions and millions of taxpayer dollars have been channelled into propping up the employment of the religious through the National Schools Chaplaincy Program. We recognise that the work of supporting and guiding students is incredibly important, but there is no reason why it can’t be done by appropriately qualified youth workers,” said Dr Meredith Doig, President of the Rationalist Society of Australia.

“If we’re serious about combating religious discrimination, the Federal Government must stop this overtly discriminatory program instead of continuing to turn a blind eye.

“It’s time to stop our schools being used as mission fields for institutionalised religion and return our schools to being genuinely secular.”

“Australians want pastoral care workers in public schools to be the best-qualified person for the job, not someone hired on the basis of their religion”, said Bill Browne, Director of the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program.

“Most Australians do not know that the Federal Government funds roles in public schools that are restricted on the basis of religion, and when they find out, they do not support it.”

The Australia Institute is a member of the Australian Polling Council. The polling methodology, long disclosure statement and margin of error for polling questions are included in the appendix of the report.

Media enquiries:
Luciana Lawe Davies 0457 974 636

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