CaSPA News


Mud-wrestling the Catholic elephant

Posted on 5 April 2018
Mud-wrestling the Catholic elephant

The Catholic Church is so big and complex. That is one of its defining characteristics yet the media and society at large, much less the Catholic community itself, often fail to grasp its consequences.

We live in an era of big institutions, such as big government, big business, big unions and other large organisations, including big churches. Business uses its size and complexity to reduce its tax burden and government has the power to crush dissent and diffuse calls for accountability. But the Catholic Church is particularly complex with its dioceses, agencies, orders, congregations, lay movements and international Canon Law.

The size and organisational complexity of the church has bedevilled the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Survivors of child sexual abuse have often been fobbed off when making claims against the church by the so-called Ellis defence which has used the law to pretend that no church entity can legitimately be sued in a particular case. Such a defence has rightly been condemned as legal trickery.

Now church reformers are facing the same dilemma, although in a different fashion. The problem lies with the many layers of authority and geographical organisation. This makes the church big and slippery. Getting a grip on it is much like mud-wrestling with an elephant. Its size and shape mean that there are numerous opportunities to engage with it but also equally numerous veto points and dead-ends when it comes to getting action.

Would-be reformers, like the groups which met last Friday in Canberra as the Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (ACCCR), are faced with the dilemma of just where to begin. Should they start from the top down, concentrating their efforts on the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the Vatican? That strategy involves dealing with the President and the Permanent Committee through either their local bishop or the ACBC Secretariat with an eye on the May and November meetings of the whole conference.

Or should they begin from the bottom up, concentrating their efforts on their local parish or diocese? That strategy has the advantage of greater accessibility but the limitation that parish and diocese must work within the larger framework of church rules. There is also enormous variability between parishes and dioceses. Some reformers will find themselves welcomed by a progressive bishop or priest, but others will be stymied by apathy and conservatism.

The local level also includes schools and agencies, like Catholic Care, as well as hospitals and aged care institutions. All provide avenues for staff and clients to engage with the larger institution.

"We are taking on trust the claims by church leaders that everything is on the table and it will not be business as usual. But we are worried that those assurances will not come to pass."

This complexity is also a mixed blessing in approaching participation in the processes of the 2020 Plenary Council, which many reformers are planning to do though with a mixture of trust and scepticism. We are taking on trust the claims by church leaders that everything is on the table and it will not be business as usual.

But we are worried that those assurances will not come to pass, either because real reform is out of the hands of the Australian church or because there is no firm intention of constructing a broad agenda which includes structural and cultural issues such as the absence of women from decision-making and the barriers to lay leadership.

For that reason it is essential that the bishops engage with the ACCCR communique and release the response of their Truth, Justice and Healing Council to the royal commission to the Catholic community when they receive it in late April. Furthermore, a lay woman co-chair should be appointed to the Plenary Council leadership without further ado to provide the necessary gender and lay/clerical balance.

In general both church reformers and church officials should be much clearer and in the case of church leaders much more transparent about levels of responsibility within the church. That would make it plainer what precisely can be achieved within the Australian church within parishes and dioceses and collectively nation-wide. That in turn would make it more obvious what each level can reasonably be expected to do when it comes to institutional reform. A great deal of inertia and buck-passing, and ultimately dashed expectations, will be avoided if that is the case.

Reprinted from Eureka Street 31 March 2018 by John Warhurst

John Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and chairs Concerned Catholics Canberra-Goulburn.

Posted in: Governance Identity   0 Comments

Experts question basing classes on ability rather than age

Posted on 4 April 2018
Experts question basing classes on ability rather than age
A Melbourne school has scrapped age-based classes and given students free rein to assign themselves to whatever year level they feel best meets their ability.

Students at Templestowe College a public secondary school in Melbourne's eastern suburbs are grouped according to their skill or ability level, rather than their age.

"Entry students" (Year 7's) must study four core units English, maths, science and health/physical education with other similar-aged students, and can begin to familiarise themselves with other mixed-aged students by choosing two units from their 130 different electives.

From Year 8 onwards, students have complete control over the course load and can work at a level they feel is best suited to their ability. A class can include anyone from 13 to 18 years of age.

Principal Pete Ellis said 20 per cent of Year 8-aged students took a VCE unit in 2017 and passed.

"Anything is possible", Mr Ellis said.

But Dr Rachel Wilson, a senior education lecturer at the University of Sydney, said research into the effectiveness of dividing students by ability is "at best, equivocal".

"A school that's thinking of moving that way is doing something that's experimental.

"It is certainly not clear that it improves students' performance."

In 2012, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) analysed the education systems of 39 developed nations.

Countries that organised students into ability groups at an early age tended to have higher school-dropout rates and lower levels of achievement, the OECD study found.

In 2014, the Institute of Education in London analysed the progress of 2500 primary-school-aged students and found those in the lower streams made significantly less academic progress than those who were taught in all-ability classes.

Principal Mr Ellis said Templestowe College introduced stage-based learning across all subjects in 2014 and found many students were picking subjects at a level that exceeded their ability.

"It was like a badge of honour do the subjects that were higher up."

That year, Templestowe College implemented course counselling services for students so that they could make well-educated decisions about their right level of learning, he said.

They're making the right decisions now student happiness is through the roof.

"If you're in the class and you've found that you've made that wrong choice, and the work is too difficult you can actually just then change into the right level.

"Because subjects aren't called Year 9 maths or Year 10 maths and they're mixed-aged, the stigma isn't there that once was about going into a class that maybe isn't your age."

The Victorian Department of Education does not have a direct role in the registration, administration or operation of schools, a spokesperson said.

It therefore holds no data on the number of schools that have removed age-based classes.

Kananook Primary School in Melbourne's southern suburbs and Oran Park Public School in Sydney's south-west also runs "stage-based classes", but neither responded to requests for comment.

Dr Wilson said a "radical change" in schooling may send students the wrong message.

"Certainly being grouped into 'gifted and talented' or 'not' suggests to a student that they may have some sort of limited ability or that their ability is fixed somehow," she said.

"What we're trying to do in education is to convince students of how their abilities are not fixed, that there is always room for growth."

Dr Vicki McKenzie, from the School of Education at the University of Melbourne, said streaming by ability "puts a limit on the progress that teachers might expect".

"There's not much variation, there's not much stimulation to progress, and there are expectations built up because they're all in a particular group."

Dr McKenzie said teachers can cater for the children in their class irrespective of their academic abilities.

Professor Geoff Masters, chief executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research, said in any given year of school, the most advanced 10 per cent of children are about five to six years ahead of the least advanced 10 per cent of children.

"To assume that most children are ready for the same kind of learning activities is often a mistake."

Under traditional age-based learning approaches, "the most advanced students are not being adequately challenged by the expectations of the year level and the least advanced students are often presented with learning activities that are so far in advance of them that they're not able to engage with them properly", he said.

From: The New Daily - Christiane Barro 8:42pm, Mar 31, 2018

Posted in: curriculum   0 Comments

A free in-school program upskilling Year 12 students in career management

Posted on 3 April 2018
A free in-school program upskilling Year 12 students in career management

Higher Pathways is a free, in-school enterprise learning program for Year 12 students who might be interested in pursuing Higher Apprenticeships after leaving school.

What are Higher Apprenticeships?
Apprenticeships have traditionally been associated with trade occupations but things have changed! The Australian Government is now, for the first time ever, investing in Higher Apprenticeships, to develop apprenticeship programs in non-traditional sectors and to create high quality vocational pathways for people wanting to move into a fulfilling career in a range of professional and business services sectors.

There is a need to create greater choice for those who would prefer to go straight to work after school instead of going to university, and Higher Apprenticeships are just that.

For example, apprenticeships may be offered in a variety of roles through a banking and financial services provider, a hospital, an IT services provider or a professional services firm.

The Higher Apprenticeship model is inspired by the Higher Apprenticeship program that has been successfully piloted in the UK.

Who is eligible for the Higher Pathways program in 2018?
In 2018, FYA will be delivering the Higher Pathways program to Year 12 students from schools with an ICSEA value below 1100 in South West Sydney, the NSW Central Coast and some parts of regional NSW. We also have a particular focus on creating opportunities for female-identifying students, but all students are welcome!

Is the program free?
Yes, the Higher Pathways program is free for both students and participating schools.

What if my school is not in Southwest Sydney or the NSW Central Coast?
In 2018, we are piloting the Higher Pathways program in schools in Southwest Sydney, the NSW Central Coast and some select areas of regional NSW. The program may roll out into other areas in future years, so stay tuned for further developments! If you'd like to be notified, please email us at


For More Information:

Posted in: pathways   0 Comments

Sydney Catholic Schools see drop in enrolments as funding cuts bite

Posted on 2 April 2018
Sydney Catholic Schools see drop in enrolments as funding cuts bite
Catholic schools in Sydney's northern suburbs have lost more than 320 students to neighbouring public schools - accounting for half the total decline in enrolments over the past year.

Above: Broken Bay Catholic Schools Director Peter Hamill

As many public schools buckle under the pressure of growing student numbers, the Catholic diocese of Broken Bay has blamed a rise in fees, brought about by the Turnbull government's school funding changes, for enrolments slumping between 10 and 23 per cent in 31 of its 44 schools.

Interviews conducted with parents who had decided to withdraw their children revealed 50 per cent were moving to public schools, 20 per cent to Catholic schools elsewhere, and 12 per cent had opted for an independent school.

Most of the 642 losses had occurred since August.

The trend has been supported by 2018 school enrolment figures provided to The Weekend Australian by the NSW Department of Education, adding weight to the warning of Broken Bay school director Peter Hamill of the "potential for flow-on impacts for the state government budget as families move students from lowfee systemic schools to already stretched public schools".

In a letter to state and federal MPs, Mr Hamill said the losses had coincided with the public debate around school funding, which has intensified since federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham unveiled a new schools funding package last May. While the government has promised funding for schools will grow over the coming decade, the Catholic sector believes it is being shortchanged by more than $1 billion, giving it no choice but to hike fees.

Meanwhile the NSW government is spending $4.2bn building or upgrading 120 schools to meet an expected enrolment spike of 21 per cent, or 164,000 students, by 2031.

At Kambora Public School in Davidson, enrolments have swelled 27 per cent in two years to 217 students. However, 400m away at St Martin's Catholic Primary School, enrolments fell 23 per cent to 97 this year. Enrolments at the school, which charges up to $4524 per student, are down more than 30 per cent since 2016.

Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Primary School in Waitara has shed 13 per cent of its enrolments in the past year, on top of a 9 per cent loss between 2016 and 2017.

At nearby Hornsby South Public School, however, enrolments jumped from 588 to 661.

Prouille Catholic Primary School suffered a 14 per cent drop in enrolments in the past year. Its closest school is Wahroonga Public School, which reported a modest increase. However, nearby Waitara Public School, also in Wahroonga, has seen a huge growth in student numbers, up 7 per cent to 935, with enrolments tipped to reach 1000 by mid-year.

Catholics Nick and Christine Berman considered sending their daughter Kate to a Catholic school but opted for Waitara Public because it offered a quality education in an inclusive, multicultural environment.

Mr Berman said he knew of families that were reconsidering Catholic schools due to the rising fees.

"I know of one in particular that is struggling to justify spending thousands to send their child to a particular school when every day they walk straight past a high quality public school to get there," he said.

From: Weekend Australian, Australia  by Rebecca Urban

24 Mar 2018
Posted in: Funding   0 Comments

CaSPA President urges rethink on Gonski 2.0 Funding

Posted on 1 April 2018
CaSPA President urges rethink on Gonski 2.0 Funding

Above: Head of Federal Education Department, Dr Michele Bruniges with CaSPA President Andrew Watson at the recent CaSPA Board Meeting where the issue of equitable funding for the future was discussed.

When Malcolm Turnbull jumped on stage with his good friend David Gonski nearly a year ago and announced a 10-year plan to inject billions of dollars into education, he said it was time to "bring the school funding wars to an end".

The package that squeaked through the Senate a few months later seemed like it might actually achieve that lofty goal. Its basic premise was to deliver more money than Tony Abbott's offering, but less than Labor's, and with a fairer distribution of the funding without "special deals".

But there was always a sticking point: the Catholics. Having enjoyed a privileged position under Labor's original Gonski arrangements, the massive Catholic education sector lobbied intensely against the new model, under which their funding would keep increasing but at a slower rate.

The law passed but the Catholics never surrendered. And Labor stuck to its guns, promising to inject $17 billion more than the Liberals over 10 years, if it won at the next election.

Despite this week's flare up, little has changed on those fronts. The Catholic school sector still claims the new model is unfair because it gives their over-funded systemic schools less time to transition than their independent cousins. Labor is still promising more money for everyone, including $250 million for Catholic schools in the first two years.

But the political interests of Labor and the Catholics aligned in recent weeks in curious - and, to some, questionable - fashion. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wrote a letter to Australia's most senior Catholic, the Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart, declaring the ALP stood "shoulder-to-shoulder with the church" on school funding.

Shortly after, Catholic Education Melbourne boss Stephen Elder launched a robocall blitz of households in the seat of Batman, praising Labor's school policies ahead of last weekend's byelection. Labor won, although no serious interpretation of the result would give particular credit to the Catholic campaign.

But Shorten's letter and Elder's robocalls demonstrate a relationship of convenience between Labor and the Victorian Catholics. It's worth noting that Elder, somewhat of a renegade, is a former Liberal MP in Victoria, and it's likely his frenetic campaigning is partly an attempt to save face after he failed to extract a special deal from Education Minister Simon Birmingham.

The aggressive tactics in Melbourne might seem counterproductive, but Catholic schools strongly backed their head office this week. Andrew Watson, President of  Catholic Secondary Principals Australia, said it was the only way to get Birmingham to listen.

"Perhaps there's a bit of arrogance there that he's not prepared to accept he's got it wrong, or hasn't understood the complexities of the schools and the various systems," Watson told Fairfax Media. "I don't think he has been well advised."

Watson and others are continuing to lobby by going around Birmingham, securing meetings with Victorian Liberal senators Scott Ryan [April 24th coming] and Jane Hume, who are prepared to hear out the Catholics' concerns.

Adapted from The Saturday Age, Melbourne  by Michael Koziol

24 Mar 2018
Posted in: Funding   0 Comments
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