The mission of Catholic schools is simple, according to Jim Miles, Acting Executive Director of Catholic Education Melbourne. “We seek to provide an accessible, high-quality, low-fee, inclusive, faith and values-based education to all who want one.”
This mission is why Catholic schools are committed to a holistic approach that puts the whole child at the heart of education.
Each child’s capabilities are celebrated through focusing on a range of factors, including academic excellence, which recognises the intellectual, pastoral, spiritual, physical and creative components of student development.
By nurturing their unique talents and shaping their awareness of the broader common good, Catholic students develop positivity, confidence, and a strong sense of reciprocity and obligation to others.
Andrew Leighton, Principal of St Clare’s Catholic School, Truganina South, is inspired by what this approach achieves.
“Families want children to learn as independent, creative thinkers, inspired by gospel values and empowered with a sense of purpose and responsibility,” he says. “Students learn to confidently engage with others and develop skills to adapt to an ever-changing world – it’s wonderful to watch.”
The approach also involves engaging parents as partners in learning because, as Mr Miles explains, “We believe in a partnership with parents.”
He says, “Catholic schools will continue to meet the expectations of parents, giving them a choice of school to best meet their children’s needs. Growing enrolment numbers make it clear families appreciate the option.”
Nearly 210,000 school students, or one in four Victorian children, enjoy a Catholic education in one of the almost 500 Catholic schools in operation across the state.
Demand for a Catholic education has increased significantly in recent times, with seven schools opening in the last two years and more planned into the 2020s.
This investment highlights how central our local communities are to learning.
Part of the community
As Melbourne changes, Catholic schools are seen as more than places of education; they are vital community hubs that provide a sense of certainty and purpose and enduring values.
That, as Angela Glennie, Principal of St Mary’s School in Mount Evelyn explains, involves working hard to ensure there are different things at school or in the local community.
“It might be drama, art, football or garden club, but it’s important for students and families to have choices to find what works for them. It’s about having the vision here, but opening it up to possibilities in the wider community,” she says.
Catholic schools also enable students to participate in a wider community of faith, supported by collaboration with the parish priest, each parish and the Catholic Education Office.
Through this participation and a greater understanding of themselves and the gospel, students are empowered to take action in creating a more just society.
This powerful sense of social justice is what inspires students at Parade College, Bundoora, to take time on a Tuesday morning to cook breakfast for members of the local West Heidelberg/Olympic Village community who may otherwise go without.
Australian researcher Andrew Norton has looked at the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes and concluded these benefits apply to Catholic schools more broadly. His research has shown that faith-based schools have the highest rankings for student participation in volunteering, working collaboratively and being willing to trust others.
A survey commissioned by the Foundation for Young Australians investigating the incidence of racist bullying similarly concludes that Catholic schools, in particular, are very successful in encouraging a caring and supportive community. The survey notes that students at Catholic schools experienced significantly less racism than those in other schools.
Teachers also benefit from being part of the community. Second-year teacher Simon Rahilly from John Paul College, Frankston, believes there is also a strong sense of community within Catholic schools that is great to be part of.
“Whether it be through whole-school activities such as swimming sports or just during everyday classes, the overwhelming feeling of belonging is wonderful for a teacher,” he says.
Pathways for life
Research, both in Australia and overseas, provides ample evidence of the positive and beneficial influence of Catholic education.
University of Melbourne research has found that Catholic schools add an average of six points to tertiary admission ranks, or ATAR scores, at the crucial career-defining end of a student’s school journey.
Donna Bryce, foundation Principal of St Catherine of Siena Catholic Primary School, Armstrong Creek, explains that the difference is “nurturing and knowing that each of us is made in the image of our God, so that we can respect and show that respect.” She says, “Children who have that self-worth will succeed.”
American researcher James Coleman, in his ground-breaking exploration of social capital, concluded that Catholic schools are especially successful in promoting social cohesion and a sense of belonging. Mr Coleman argues that Catholic schools, their students and parents, and the school’s community share a common commitment to and belief in faith-based morals and virtues.
One example of this comes from Clonard College, Herne Hill. Having become aware of the ever-growing levels of anxiety, depression and social and emotional issues among students, the College’s Stewardship Council and Leadership Team devised a wellbeing program targeted specifically at Year 9 and 10 students. The program enabled students to develop their knowledge and skills in the areas of resilience and perseverance, healthy eating, respectful relationships and mindfulness.
Students also benefit from initiatives like the ‘Making a Difference’ Showcase, which encourages a multidisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) approach to address problems.
Ideas presented in 2018 came from St Anthony’s School, Alphington, where students tackled rising sea levels, and the team from St Monica’s College, Epping, who developed an app for people living with autism.
These opportunities are exciting for Damian McKew, Foundation Principal of Iona College, Charlemont, who says, “Never before have students had so many diverse options where they have the opportunity to study such a broad range of subjects.”
Mr McKew says, “Despite challenges in caring for young people in an increasingly connected world, there are also great opportunities for global learners through technology. We have a responsibility to our families and students to help them negotiate this balance.”
Pictured above: Students from St Monica’s take part in mass, an example of how Catholic schools enrich the spiritual lives of their students.