NSW to introduce Catholic pre-schools

NSW bishops have backed a plan, including a trial introduction of Catholic pre-schools, to reinforce Catholic identity and strengthen religious literacy as part of a battle against "secularisation, consumerism, family dysfunction and values disorientation".

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Church may run its own preschools as a way of bolstering its student population through primary and secondary schools and spreading the Catholic faith from "cradle to the grave".

A report into the provision of early childhood education, commissioned by the Catholic Education Office, recommended a trial of three "prior-to-school" centres for children aged up to six on Catholic parish or school land.

The report comes amid a growing realisation among the state's 17 Catholic bishops that more needs to be done to promote the spiritual development of children it baptises before kindergarten.

According to the Herald, the bishops' statement on education is believed to be their first since the church's 19th century attack on Henry Parkes's plan for a free and secular school system.

In their statement, the bishops warned that the Catholic school system was at a "crossroads" with its identity threatened by falling enrolments of Catholic students and growing numbers of students from different religious backgrounds.

As many as one-in-four students at Catholic schools are not of the faith and up to half of Catholic students attend public high schools. In regional NSW, as many as 40 per cent of students at Catholic schools are not of the faith.

The bishops dismissed suggestions they downsize the Catholic school system and open it only to students and staff who "embrace the mission of the Catholic school", instead reaffirming their commitment to a new mission for Catholic education which would embrace the changing enrolment patterns.

They called on school leaders to maximise enrolment of Catholic students, particularly those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who are under-represented despite efforts to hold down or waive fees for poor families. The aim is to transform schools to ensure a "critical mass" of Catholic students.

The bishops suggest a range of ways to reinforce Catholic identity and achieve greater religious literacy, including regular participation in Mass and Confession and prayers at assemblies, in class and in staff and student meetings. They also plan to promote the priesthood, religious life and Christian marriage.

Bishop David Walker, chairman of the Catholic Education Commission NSW, suggested putting more student religious artwork on the walls of schools alongside the crucifixes.

The Church's expansion of child-care centres signals a new frontier in its quest to arrest the decline in church attendance and combat increasing "secularisation, consumerism, family dysfunction and values disorientation".

Br Kelvin Canavan, executive director of the Catholic Education Office, said building a centre on church land could cost up to $1.9 million. There are only a handful of preschools run by parishes and schools in the Sydney archdiocese.

Preschool plan to spread the Catholic word (Sydney Morning Herald, 8/7/07)
Schools court Catholic-only rule (Daily Telegraph, 8/7/07)
Bishops call for schools to push Catholic faith (ABC News, 7/8/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Education Office Sydney

Tas church presses for school anti-discrimination exemption (CathNews, 30/4/07)

8 Aug 2007