Academic achievement, accessibility, affordability, and strong and safe school communities are drawing more Melbourne families to Catholic education, reveals Catholic Education Melbourne.
“You feel something special the moment you walk into a Catholic school,” says Allison Nally, a teacher at Emmaus College in Vermont South.
Krystine Hocking, Principal at Holy Trinity Catholic Primary School in Sunbury, which just opened its doors this year, has an idea of what that ‘something special’ might be.
“Catholic schools are communities of compassion where we’re called to care for those in need and shape the world for a common good. We recognise that each person is different and we commit to respect each other and empower all our students to achieve their full potential. It’s about them making sense of their world,” she says.
Catholic schools encourage students to learn through inquiry, and teachers are encouraged to support students in their search for understanding and meaning.
Students are encouraged to explore the big questions in life with a clear vision of what is good about themselves, their immediate surroundings and the wider world in which they live.
This emphasis on the whole student is not only endorsed by academic research, with a Curtin University study showing Catholic school graduates enjoy higher levels of life satisfaction. Parents want it for their children too.
Demand for a Catholic education has increased significantly in recent times with five schools opening last year, Holy Trinity and a new school in Wollert in 2019, and more planned into the 2020s.
New and expanding communities see Catholic schools as essential elements of their neighbourhood, with well over 210,000 students – almost one in four Victorian school children – enjoying a Catholic education in one of nearly 500 schools statewide, supported by some 28,000 staff.
The figures show the strength of the system and why the proportion of Victorian students in Catholic schools is higher than in other states.
Affordability backed by continued academic achievement are key reasons for the appeal of a 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.
A major part of this success comes from the fact that when Catholic school teachers walk into class, they see individual students, not a blur of faces.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure for our children to be the best at all times,” Ms Hocking says. “This has an impact on their wellbeing and we’re seeing high levels of anxiety. We should want our children to be the best ‘for’ the world and not the best ‘in’ the world, and our challenge is to instil that hope.”
Catholic schools work hard to discover what matters to each student and identify what they want from life so they can fulfil their full potential, realise their gifts, and build self-esteem and resilience.
Without a strong sense of self, successful learning and achievement are difficult to obtain.
Catholic schools not only let students come to understand who they are, what they want and how to get there. They nurture a love of learning and a desire for knowledge that become an essential part of this process of growth.
The Curtin University research shows this approach pays real-world dividends. It has found that Australians who attended Catholic schools enjoy a wage premium of around 10 per cent.
But academic achievement is only one part of a Catholic education.
The Curtin University study also singles out for special mention the social capital available to those from Catholic schools.
A Catholic education equips students with the tools to shape a great understanding of themselves and their world, with graduates empowered to take the lead with action toward a better, fairer world.
Safe pathways for life
A long-running research project by the influential Melbourne Institute has found that the families of three out of four Catholic secondary school students expect their children will go on to undertake university studies.
And in an important indication of the character of our schools, the same study shows that Catholic school students are far less likely to be bullied than those attending government schools.
“Catholic schools are places where families have a sense of hope based on the experience of God’s love and care,” Ms Hocking says.
The wellbeing programs in our schools live out the gospel values of faith and a shared belief that we should all aspire to a common good.
As part of this, Catholic schools not only aim to create zero-bullying environments based on a genuine concern for others, but strive to be leaders in child safety.
This has led Catholic Education Melbourne to work with Australian Catholic University to create the Graduate Certificate in Safeguarding Children and Young People, the only tertiary course of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and just one of a handful globally.
Catholic education’s faith-based values have much to offer students as they are challenged to take action for a better world and more just society.
Catholic schools are places where life, faith and family are celebrated.
That, as Principal at Stella Maris School in Beaumaris, Robert Horwood explains, involves building deep connections with parents as partners in learning – and helping them assist their children with their school journey.
“With more parents working and the pressures of being time-poor, many families have less time to be together and to enjoy and discuss everyday life,” Mr Horwood says. “These factors can lead to a sense of uncertainty and anxiousness for parents, who then unknowingly pass feelings of anxiety and lack of resilience on to their children.
“Sometimes, real or implied pressure to be perfect, compete, achieve success in everything they do and never being allowed to fail sets our learners up to be anxious teenagers and adults.”
This is where Catholic schools’ emphasis on parental communication and support can make a real difference and smooth student paths to learning.
“Parental contribution to learning cannot be outsourced,” Mr Horwood says. “Stronger partnerships with the school lead to better outcomes and opportunities for our learners. Children need time to be children and to worry less about issues.”
Victorian Catholic schools build on over 150 years of service to the community. Catholic education in the state has a rich past and our future is just as strong.
The Catholic way of understanding people and the world provides students with a sense of hope and purpose in their lives.
It adds to their resilience and capacity to make a difference, particularly in the face of all the challenges of our diverse, complex and ever-changing modern world.
Catholic Education Melbourne welcomes all families who seek a Catholic education for their child, and believes our school difference sets students up for lifelong success and fulfilment.
Or as Ms Hocking says, “We can never underestimate the impact we have on the future generations we teach. Mother Teresa once said: ‘I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things’.”
Pictured above: Christ the King School in Newcomb.