Catholic schools are now almost entirely staffed by lay teachers but are more popular than ever, and are getting more students to stay on to the end of Year 12.
    The latest figures on schools, students and staff compiled by the Catholic Education Commission and reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, also show that enrolments for NSW and the ACT have grown in the past five years by 7,617 students to 239,610 last year, 2,645 more than in 1997.
    Students in the Archdiocese of Sydney accounted for 32 per cent of all enrolments, the highest percentage.
    They were followed by the Diocese of Parramatta, with about 18 per cent.
    The Christian Brothers operate 12 schools in NSW but the number of brothers in teaching positions fell from 81 in 1989 to 33 last year.
    Only eight schools, including St Pius X College at Chatswood, are headed by a Christian Brother. With most brothers in their 50s and 60s, and no new recruits in NSW since 1993, some schools are preparing for the day when there will be no Christian Brothers teaching.
    The principal of St Pius X College, Brother Paul Leary, said a board had been established to ensure the schools' ethos was preserved.
    "It would be a lot easier to keep the ethos alive if we had more Christian Brothers in schools but we haven't, and the board is one way of making sure we keep the ethos of our founder alive," he said.
    The figures show retention rates to Year 12 in the 622 Catholic schools in NSW and the ACT have risen from 55.1 per cent in 1987 to 74.6 last year.
    The executive director of schools for the Archdiocese of Sydney, Brother Kelvin Canavan, said lower class sizes, students staying at school longer and the withdrawal of religious teachers had led to a rapid rise in the number of lay teachers.
    Lay teachers made up 98.2 per cent of all teachers in Catholic schools last year.
    Of the 14,435 full-time teachers in Catholic schools, only 260 were in religious orders, 20 less than in 1997.
    But Brother Kelvin said that despite the big changes, the transition to a lay teaching force had been smooth.
    "The parents of children at Catholic schools were quick to accept lay teachers and principals," he said. "... Parents have expressed high levels of satisfaction with the religious education in Catholic schools and the majority of teachers in our schools would have religious education training."
    Catholic school enrolment policies give preference to Catholic students and all students are expected to take part in religious education, including regular church attendance.
    However the number of non-Catholic students in Catholic schools in NSW and the ACT has risen from 1.3 per cent in 1973 to 15.4 per cent in 1998.

31/03/99 9:30:05 / Sydney Morning Herald


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