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Critics take aim at Catholic Education as latest data shows fall in Student Enrolments

Posted on 12 March 2019
Critics take aim at Catholic Education as latest data shows fall in Student Enrolments

Above: As reported late last year, there has been a small drop in CaSPA School enrolments - even though the actual number of schools with secondary enrolments has grown


Enrolments in Australia's Catholic schools have fallen for the second year in a row, while the number of students attending government and independent schools grows, new figures show.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics data comes as the Coalition's election pledge to triple its annual spending on building classrooms for non-government schools shapes as the most divisive education pledge of the NSW election campaign so far.

After recording their first fall in more than 10 years in 2017, Catholic school enrolments across Australia again dropped by almost 1000 students last year. Independent enrolments grew, while government schools also continued an upward trend.

In the five years to 2018, Catholic schools' national enrolment share across the country dropped by almost one percentage point.

A spokesman for the National Catholic Education Commission said the fall was due to concerns about increased fees, and economic challenges such as the drought.

"Catholic education ... is more susceptible to economic and financial impact on its enrolments than the free public sector and the high-fee independent sector," he said. "With funding certainty now in place, we look forward to serving more families into the future."

But critics argue the enrolment drop was due to increasing confidence in public schools due to the My School website, greater secularism in the community and the fallout from the royal commission into institutions' response to sexual abuse.

"The Catholic brand is on the nose, quite clearly, through the child sexual abuse [royal commission] and revelations of the church doubling down and protecting itself," said NSW Teachers Federation President Maurie Mulheron.

This week, the NSW Coalition pledged to spend $500 million over four years on building new classrooms for Catholic and independent schools - a tripling of the present private school capital budget - if it wins the March election.

The Herald understands the policy was driven by Treasurer Dominic Perrottet rather than Education Minister Rob Stokes. Many private schools are low-fee suburban schools, and the funding will be distributed based on need.

Labor has not revealed whether it will match the Coalition's promise. The NSW Government is also investing $6 billion over four years in building government schools.

The private school pledge has injected controversy into an otherwise uneventful election campaign on the education front, disappointing public school advocates who supported Mr Stokes' push for more federal money for public schools last year.

"There is no reason at all for this new lavish gift of half-a-billion dollars," said P&C Federation president Susie Boyd. However, Catholic Schools NSW said the money will let the 944-strong non-government sector plan for the future.


Former NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli said the Coalition should have used the money to negotiate reforms to non-government schools, including enrolment policies and transparency in funding.

Professor Piccoli, now head of the Gonski Institute for Education, said government schools had to accept all students. If private schools wanted government money, they should be required to do the same, he said.

"If you are going to hand over a very large amount of money, then [say], 'in exchange for this money, here are some reforms to make it more equitable between government and non-government schools around sharing responsibility."

From: The Sydney Morning Herald

By: Jordan Baker March 8, 2019 8.00pm
 

Tags: Government Funding

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