Dear valued subscriber,
It's just one of the changes that has taken place since the Albanese Labor government came into power last month. But it's a significant one - the ending of the compulsory religious aspect of the $60 million a year National School Chaplaincy Program, first introduced by the Howard government in 2006.
Schools will now have a choice of chaplain or professionally-qualified student welfare officer, marking an end to a particular culture war that has been grating uncomfortably in the nominally secular education landscape.
While no one has ever disputed the importance of pastoral care in schools, the program's requirement that chaplains be recognised or endorsed by a religious institution has caused significant controversy, even while school chaplains are banned from evangelising or proselytising.
Instead, they were always intended to provide "general spiritual and personal advice", notwithstanding how loaded the term "spiritual" becomes when paired with religion.
Although chaplains are required to be trained youth workers, they are not required to be qualified and accredited counsellors.
It's always been a complex issue with a distinct lack of middle ground. Religion should play no role in secular schools; this is a fundamental tenet of our education system. And if parents want to nurture the spiritual life of their children, a public school might not be the way to go about it.
But the service nominally fulfilled by chaplains needs to be replaced, and fully funded, by something that meets the needs of students.
And now, the Labor government's newly-appointed Federal Education Minister Jason Clare has moved to open up the program to give schools the option to choose either a professionally qualified student welfare officer or a chaplain. It's a good move.
It's a decision that comes at a crucial time for schools, and a generation of students whose education has been disrupted by an unprecedented two-year-plus pandemic.
Many students of all ages are struggling, or traumatised by this prolonged period of turmoil, notwithstanding the many new and emerging issues in modern education that teachers and parents are only just starting to grapple with. These include a greater recognition of gay and trans rights, the rise of cyber-bullying and its impacts on mental health, drug and alcohol abuse in the home and among students.
Earlier this month a Warrnambool psychologist, who spent most of her working life as a chaplain in schools, revealed she had written to the state government calling for more support for principals and teachers because of rising violence among students.
The state government this week announced every single government and low-fee non-government primary school in Victoria - 1800 school campuses - would employ a mental health and wellbeing leader to implement a whole-school approach to wellbeing by 2026. This will support individual students, help teachers better identify and support at-risk students, and build relationships and referral pathways to local mental health services.
These are critical steps for our children.
There's been plenty of housing and development news this week. The biggest was the listing of a parcel of land expected to be sold for $20 million that would then be turned into a 600-lot housing subdivision in Warrnambool's north-east.
Warrnambool's Indoor Tennis Centre is no longer after the 40-year-old facility was demolished to make way for the Salvation Army's new headquarters.
It's the end of an era at Koroit with the butcher's shop leaving the Quinlan family's hands after 70 years.
Just when will people in cars be allowed access to Warrnambool's revamped Reid Oval? The city council says it is waiting for grass to grow around spectator areas before giving cars the green light. It hopes the grass will be right for footy finals but there's no guarantee. It also emerged this week that portable toilets will have to be trucked in for finals with the new facilities having limited options.
Great to see Warrnambool City Council announcing plans to consult with residents about the future location of the art gallery. Will it remain on the current site near the Civic Green, or will it be moved to Cannon Hill, as flagged in a feasibility study? Strategic planning for our growing city is so important. While a new gallery won't happen soon, it's imperative the planning is done so the city can then jump at funding opportunities that might present. Southern Grampians Shire has already done its planning for art gallery developments, revealing it received $550,000 for what it hopes is the first step towards a complete overhaul of the facility.
Southern Grampians Shire has big plans next financial year, announcing a major revamp of Hamilton's Melville Oval as part of its budget, which was adopted this week.
A new 24-hour medical clinic will operate in Warrnambool, giving residents a chance to see a GP, relieving pressure on the city's stretched base hospital.
It's been a big week in sport, specifically football with one of the state's oldest clubs in the spotlight. Port Fairy's second 200-plus point loss for the season last week sent footy followers scurrying for the record books when it failed to score. It also kick-started speculation about the club's future and declining participation. Neighbouring Koroit told its members it was not merging with Port Fairy so strong was the rumour mill. The Seagulls revealed they are determined to survive in their own, saying you don't throw 154 years of history away.
Hope you caught up with Primary Performers' production of Annie, which presented scenes like the one above, captured by photographer Morgan Hancock.
Don't forget to check out some other stories that made headlines this week, below.
Until next week,
Greg Best, editor, The Standard
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