NSW public schools should spend government funding on tackling obesity and promoting wellness and positive psychology rather than the untested chaplaincy program that are in hundreds of the state's schools, the head of Sydney's Anglican Education Commission has argued.
As the Federal Government considers the fate of its National School Chaplaincy Program after the High Court ruled the commonwealth could not fund it, the executive director of the commission, Bryan Cowling, said there was no evidence the chaplaincy program was effective.
Dr Cowling, a former head of curriculum in the NSW Department of Education, said a long-term goal of public schools should be to replace scripture classes with a mandatory "world view and ethics" class providing students with a "broad exposure" to many religions.
"We have to ask the question, what is the highest priority for schools, and I think many would say such things as wellness, obesity, positive psychology," Dr Cowling said.
He said it was often difficult for governments to "unravel" existing programs but that was no excuse for the NSW government to retain chaplains in public schools.
"As far as I know, there isn't any evidence-based research that would provide a reputable basis for the state to take the chaplaincy program over in present form," Dr Cowling said.
The NSW Education Department confirmed it would not axe the program this year, while the federal department said it had "decided to waive its right to recover payments that have already been made under the program funding agreements". The future of the program beyond this year remained unresolved.
Last week, the High Court ruled in favour of a Queensland father Ron Williams who challenged federal funding for the scheme.
Dr Cowling said the role of chaplains should be "redesigned" and the money to fund them redirected to other programs.
But the spokesman for the National School Chaplaincy Association Peter James said there had been two university studies into the positive role of chaplains in schools and the program was specifically designed to improve the wellbeing of students.
"The logic of the program is that providing social, emotional and spiritual support produces wellbeing outcomes," Mr James said.
The NSW Catholic Education Commission said it had "no view about chaplains in NSW government schools" but a spokesman said it would be unfair on school communities to terminate a program prematurely that had been entered into in good faith.
There are in 113 Catholic schools in NSW in the chaplaincy program, the spokesman said.
But the president of the NSW Teachers Federation Maurie Mulheron said teachers remained "steadfast and utterly opposed" to chaplains in schools.
"The chaplaincy program is just a back-door way to fund the church and it has no social or education benefit whatsoever," Mr Mulheron said.
The Greens MP John Kaye said the High Court decision had created a "six-month regulatory vacuum in NSW".
"The High Court decision now leaves NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli with the choice of wasting education funds to set up his own set of chaplaincy regulations or excluding them from NSW public schools," Dr Kaye said.
"Chaplains in NSW public schools now operate without guidelines, a code of conduct or a complaints procedure, all of which disappeared with the High Court decision."