Money for chaplains
could be better spent

School counsellors are trained teachers

Any student with a mental health issue needs access to a qualified mental health practitioner, not a chaplain, Federation Assistant General Secretary (Schools) Michelle Rosicky says.

“School counsellors are trained teachers accredited in the dual disciplines of education and psychology. They have knowledge around the operation of schools, the learning process and how these fit together to better support our students. Contrast this with the minimum qualification for chaplains,” she said.

New school chaplains must have a Certificate IV in Youth Work, Pastoral Care or an equivalent qualification. When minimum qualifications were introduced existing chaplains without qualifications were required to complete two units of the Certificate IV course, being Mental Health and Making Referrals. They were given 12 months to complete these units, with the government covering the costs. Some existing chaplains were able to have their existing experience and qualifications formally recognised under recognition of prior learning.

“The Federal Government has poured $0.5 billion into the School Chaplaincy Program since 2006. How many qualified school counsellors could have been appointed with the funding that came to NSW from the School Chaplaincy program?” Ms Rosicky asks.

The Inquiry into the Provision of Public Education in NSW report released in 2002 called for the appointment of an additional 700 school counsellors; these additional teachers have not been appointed over the last 13 years.

“In 2012, Federation’s submission to the National School Chaplaincy consultation process recommended extra funding for training, recruitment and an improved career path for school counsellors, as well as additional funding for targeted professional learning for teachers in the areas of student welfare such as mental health issues, anorexia and substance abuse. Disappointingly, these recommendations were ignored,” Ms Rosicky said.

She said Federation acknowledges Education Minister Adrian Piccoli’s announcement on March 8 for an additional 236 full-time counsellors in schools.

“While Federation welcomes this new money to better support our schools and students, the union remains concerned about some detail within the announcement,” Ms Rosicky said.

School counsellors are best option

Only when Michael Sciffer became a school counsellor did he appreciate the effect they have on student learning.

Qualified school counsellors provide professional counselling for students; chaplains and welfare workers do not have the training or teaching experience to be able to do this. Teachers who train to become counsellors undergo psychology training in addition to their experience as classroom teachers. This supplementary training gives additional expertise to counsellors in student learning and mental health issues.

School counsellors understand the curriculum, they understand student behaviour and the constraints that teachers face. Because counsellors have access to classrooms they understand what teachers are trying to achieve with their students. This understanding leads to counsellors developing workable recommendations for teachers to implement.

School counsellors are supported by a District Guidance Officer to ensure students are provided with effective counselling services.

Michael, a member of Federation Executive, outlines the difficulty for schools in rural and remote areas that do not have a school counsellor in their town. He often spends large amounts of time travelling to schools in his district.

Michael travels more than 800km a week, amounting to over eight hours of travelling time. This time is part of the counsellor time allocated to schools. Time on the road reduces the amount of face-to-face time Michael has with students, let alone time he has to undertake assessments of students requested by teachers.

He said school counsellors are incredibly frustrated that money is allocated to the chaplaincy program when it could be directed to providing increased numbers of counsellors into schools.

Julie Moon, Editor