Fears restructure could kill Catholic education diversity

A controversial overhaul of Victoria's Catholic education system could damage the "heart and soul" of Catholic schools, a key group of religious educators has warned.

The restructure of the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria has caused fear and anger in the religious congregations that founded and run many schools. They accuse the church of threatening their autonomy.

The Age reports that many of the congregations, such as the Marist, Christian Brothers and Brigidine Sisters, say the restructure could dilute the diversity of Catholic education.

"What it (the restructure) can do is marginalise and strike at the very heart and soul of the Catholic education system," one senior congregational leader said.

A review of the commission that manages Catholic education calls for a centralised system under an incorporated commission. The confidential report argues that the Catholic school system lacks accountability and is ill equipped to meet government demands for performance and governance.

Victorian Catholic schools educate one in five of the state's school students, with congregations operating 55 per cent of Catholic secondary schools.

Under the new structure, which starts on 1 July, an eight-member board has been created to manage compliance with legal, social and religious requirements in schools.

The board has two congregational members but their leaders argue there is no formal requirement that the positions are from the congregations. The congregations said they have no major role in the new structure and have hit out over a lack of consultation.

Marist Brother John McMahon warned the restructure could lead to a homogenised system.

"If everything looks the same, then not everybody fits into those categories and that's why there's a great richness in Catholic education now," he said.

However, both the Jesuits and the De La Salle brothers said the restructure will have minimal impact on their teaching.

"Catholic education is diverse anyway no matter what the rules are, there is always going to have to be a certain variation, and by definition diversity," De La Salle College Malvern principal Br Bill Firman said.

Executive director of the commission Susan Pascoe said the congregations had made an extraordinary contribution to Catholic education and their fears were unfounded.

"I can understand why the congregations might see a threat to their autonomy but that is not the motivation or outcome," Ms Pascoe said. "Some (congregations) have allowed anger to cloud judgement. You could argue they are over-represented on the board."

Ms Pascoe acknowledged there had been a lack of consultation about the review but said the church had to respond to the massive changes being experienced by the education system.

Secretary of the Victorian Independent Education Union Deb James said the review had destabilised "just about all sections of the Catholic community", leaving a sense of anxiety and unease.

"Any homogenisation of the sector which knocks off the capacity of Brigidine schools, for example, in social justice, would leave Catholic education the poorer," she said.

Church attacked on school changes (The Age 11/4/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Education Commission Victoria

The Catholic school: celebrating opportunities (Aurora April-May 2006)
Diocese launches new book of student prayers (Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle 3/4/06)
Funding shake-up for private schools (The Australian 6/4/06)
No automatic school liability: expert (The Australian/Australian Associated Press 3/4/06)
Teachers at ACT Catholic schools vote unanimously for half-day strike (Canberra Times 29/3/06)
Catholic teachers asked to be patient in pay dispute (ABC Canberra 29/3/06)
Irish bishops express concern with proposal to centralize education (Catholic News Service 28/3/06)
Excellence Awards for Catholic Schools (Kairos Catholic Journal 2-9/4/06)

11 Apr 2006