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Pell resolve to reverse Catholic school gentrification

Sydney's Cardinal George Pell has told the Sydney Morning Herald that his ambition is to raise the percentage of poorer Catholics in Catholic schools.

The paper has a report today on what it calls the "gentrification" phenomenon in the Church's schools. It says the Catholic church is losing the poor and faithful from its schools as more parishioners return their children to the public system because they cannot afford tuition fees, building levies and other education costs.

It says Catholic education authorities are discussing changing fee structures to get parents in wealthier areas to further subsidise schools in less well-off areas.

Australia has one of the largest per capita Catholic school systems in the world, with the Church's schools educate one in five Australian students at primary and secondary level.

The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education has warned of "the dangers of access to Catholic schools becoming limited to the wealthier classes, thereby contributing to a society which is unjust".

Census figures show that only a third of Catholic school-aged children from families earning less than $15,600 a year attend NSW Catholic schools. Two-thirds of the poor Catholic students go to public schools and 3% are at other non-government schools.

NSW Catholic Education Commission executive director Brian Croke said his organisation is discussing how to keep the more than 500 schools accessible to low-income earners and still have enough funds "to keep them operational".

"The dilemma is creating more flexible fee arrangements without reducing the overall income which is essential to ensure that Catholic schools can continue to provide a quality education for those who choose them," he said.

Catholic principals in NSW and Victoria say they are increasingly dealing with requests for fee waivers or reductions from cash-strapped families. Family discounts are already available and fourth and subsequent children are usually educated free.

Dr Croke said: "The Catholic school share of the poorest Catholics in the community is declining. More and more of them are going to government schools rather than Catholic schools. That is a statistical fact.

Almost 150 low-fee systemic schools in the Sydney archdiocese - charging annual fees of $700 for primary students to $1480 for year 11 and 12 students - educate nearly 45% of Catholic children from low-income families. "The higher State Government grants in NSW help us achieve this result," said Cardinal Pell.

Parents face SOS plea as battlers left behind (Sydney Morning Herald 11/8/04)

Catholic Education Commission NSW
Catholic Education Office, Sydney
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Education grants keep the faith (The Weekend Australian 7/8/04)

11 Aug 2004