By Meredith Peace, President, AEU Victoria.
Schools took a big hit in last week’s federal budget.
And yet, amid the savage $80 billion cut from education and health, there was one program the Abbott Government deemed worthy of increased support.
The National School Chaplaincy Program has attracted an extra $243.8 million in this year’s budget and is set to replace the existing School Welfare Program from the start of 2015.
To put it bluntly: Abbott has elected to support a cheap, faith-based program in place of genuine support and welfare in our schools.
For a government that claims to value “freedom” and “choice”, this government is prepared to restrict the options for principals and parents when it comes to choosing how kids’ wellbeing is supported at school.
Clearly, Education Minister Christopher Pyne is content with leaving control over schooling to the States – except where he sees an ideological opportunity.
In a move that severely undermines the secular tradition of public schools, principals will no longer be able to put this welfare funding toward professional psychologists or qualified counsellors, as was possible under the former Labor Government. Instead, only religious chaplains will now be eligible for Commonwealth support.
Meanwhile, Abbott has abandoned his commitment to implementing a needs-based schools funding model, leaving 100,000 students with disabilities without the additional resources required to meet their educational needs.
With schools reporting increasing rates of behavioural and learning difficulties, and a rise in social and emotional problems among our young people, can we really afford to hand over pastoral care to people who, though possibly well-intentioned, are not qualified to identify children in need of expert assessment and provide the appropriate intervention?
School counsellors are tertiary educated, usually with a specialisation in developmental psychology and mental health issues, and subject to a national registration scheme and a strict code of ethics.