School and Education

Educating for Purposeful Living

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

This text represents the culmination of decades of Dr Hughes’ commitment, research, exploration and deeply held belief that young people need a sense of purpose if they are to lead lives of dignity and meaning. As schools and  educators grapple with how to better support young people, this advice is a valuable guide, provocation and context for action.
– Elisabeth Lenders, Principal, Kingswood College, Box Hill.

At a time when the value of religion and religious education is increasingly questioned in Australia, Philip Hughes’ new book takes a fresh and different approach to religious education and how schools can contribute positively to the future lives of their students. After examining the evidence about the effectiveness of existing approaches and strategies, he proposes what might be a more realistic, creative and fruitful path for schools to take in helping students develop purpose in life. I found this a stimulating discussion.

– Dr Jon Newton, Dean of Research and Postgraduate Studies, Harvest Bible College.

Philip Hughes has once again demonstrated his mastery of the field of religious education across a range of Christian faith traditions. In this book, he draws on his vast experience of survey and interview research with many thousands of students from Catholic, Independent and other schools around Australia to propose a very thoughtful and comprehensive approach to education that assists young people to develop a sense of purpose in life. In what Pope Francis has called a change of era, and not simply an era of change, all faith-based schools, indeed, all teachers in those schools, will do well to avail themselves of Dr Hughes’ wisdom and insight.

– Dr Bob Dixon, Retired Director, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Pastoral Research Office

Dr Philip Hughes has spent most of his life in research on the spiritual and religious dimensions of culture and their expression in both religious organisations and schools. For 31 years, he was the senior research officer of the Christian Research Association. He also worked for 11 years at Edith Cowan University, and is an honorary Research Fellow with the University of Divinity and the Catholic Pastoral Research Office. He is now the chief supervisor for post-graduate research at Harvest Bible College. For 30 years, he has served on school councils, and for 10 years chaired the Council of Kingswood College, Box Hill. Philip Hughes has written more than 60 books and hundreds of articles.

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Children’s Prayer – A Multi-faith Perspective

Friday, May 6th, 2016

This book provides strong arguments for giving prayer a central place in the education and nurture of children. It is based on research in Australian Catholic, parent-controlled Christian, Independent, Jewish, Muslim and government schools. The author demonstrates focused attention and care in the data collection from the words of children and their drawings of people praying. She takes us through her thorough processes of analysis and synthesis.

The research shows that prayer is valued by all children, whether they come from a religious background or not. For some children it is a way of associating with their communities and traditions of faith. For others, prayer is practised in an individualistic manner.

Prayer is a way to perceive and respond to the experiences of life. It can help in dealing with the challenging emotional states of anxiety, loneliness, fear, anger and guilt. It can give hope for the future. It provides a way of seeking help for others, as well as expressing praise and thanksgiving.

Vivienne Mountain has a background in teaching and in clinical counselling. She lectures in Spirituality and Ministry with Children at Stirling Theological College, University of Divinity, Australia. She has published three books as well as contributing chapters to a number of others and articles for national and international journals.

Vivienne Mountain PhD, MA (Theology), MA (Creative arts therapy), MA ( Philosophy and religion), B Ed, B Th.

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Review of Chaplaincy in State Schools in Australia

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

The first chaplain was appointed to a government school in 1955. Since that time, chaplaincy has become more common in State schools around Australia. However, chaplaincy in State schools has grown hugely in the last 3 years from around 650 to more than 1870 chaplains. In 2006, the National School Chaplaincy Program was initiated by the Federal Government offering funding for chaplains. Approximately 2712 schools received funding of which 1915 were government schools and 797 were Catholic or independent schools. The tasks of chaplains, as described by the Federal government, were to support students in exploring their spirituality, providing guidance on religious, values and ethical matters, and facilitating access to helping agencies in the community. They were also to assist school counsellors and staff in the provision of welfare services, providing guidance on issues of human relationships and support in cases of bereavement, family breakdown and other crisis and loss situations, and to provide on-going support for individual students and staff where necessary.

A high proportion of chaplains are male (41%) compared with teachers (26%) and health and welfare support workers (29%). Many chaplains are young with 28 per cent being under 30 years of age and only 23 per cent 50 years of age or older. Many bring to the job experience in youth or children’s work or church associated work. Twenty-one per cent have been teachers and 15 per cent are professionally trained counsellors.
Most chaplains work part-time. The money offered by the Federal Government contributes to two days employment per week. For a school to employ a chaplain for longer, it, or the community, must come up with additional funding. The average number of hours a chaplain is employed in a school was 19 hours. Twenty-six per cent of chaplains served more than one school.

Principals were asked to assess on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being excellent, how effective chaplains were in various areas of their work. Asked about the most important contribution chaplains had made, most principals wrote of how they provided pastoral care in a non-judgemental way. Secondly, they spoke of modelling and teaching moral values and, thirdly, in creating and nurturing ties with the community. Many chaplains saw an important part of their work as building relationship skills. In many schools, there had been crises such as the death of a student and in such instances the chaplain had had a special and valued role.

Eighty-four per cent of principals indicated that feedback from parents about chaplaincy had been strongly positive or mostly positive. Ten per cent said they had received no feedback. Just 0.3 per cent of principals said that they had mostly negative feedback. In interviews, parents said they appreciated the pastoral care and good moral influence of the chaplains on their children.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 20, No. 1, Pages 7-10

Who’s Coming To School Today?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

In March 2009, Brisbane Catholic Education began the largest single data collection ever undertaken in Australian Catholic schools. Over 27 000 surveys were returned from students in years 3,6,9 and 12, their parents and all staff in Catholic schools as well as a significant number of parish priests.

The vast majority of students come from homes in which at least one parent identifies as Catholic. The parent respondents identified as 63 per cent Catholic (with a predominance of mothers filling out the survey) while 52 per cent of the “other” parent or guardians were also Catholic. This can be compared with the student population at the time which was 68 per cent Catholic, serviced by a staff of whom 82 per cent identify as Catholic.

The clear perception of students from years 3-12 is that their school makes a concerted effort to look after them and cares about their welfare. The questionnaires were designed to reveal the core strengths of these Catholic schools by asking respondents to rate various items that they felt the school does best. For instance, for Years 9 and 12, their parents and the staff, the choices provided 15 options ranging from “providing high quality facilities” to “relating to students as individuals”, “encouraging respect for authority” and “managing bullying successfully”.

The faith dimension of the parents did, to a large extent, mirror that of the staff. Responses to the survey were analysed using factor analysis which facilitated the development of a number of scales: faith, social (awareness) and a scale unique to the students which we termed “struggle and doubt”.

The importance parents have placed on academic success was determined to some extent by their own educational background. Parents with university and post graduate qualifications tended to place a much higher importance on religious education while those with only some secondary school or having completed only secondary school placed a higher importance on the school providing a pathway for future employment.

There was significant agreement among all respondents about social justice values. The two questions on this scale were “I am concerned about justice to the poor and disadvantaged” and “I care about the natural environment.”

The challenge for the future will be to maintain the “strong Catholic identity” of these schools. Schools are often the only point of contact for many with the Catholic Church and there is significant loyalty to the Catholic “brand”, with over 60 per cent of the year 12 students stating they would send their own children to a Catholic school. On the other hand this does not translate into regular church attendance either by parents or students.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 3, Pages 14-15

Social Networking among Secondary Students

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

The Christian Research Association is currently undertaking surveys of students in Catholic schools. The surveys seek to discover ‘how students put life together’. Over 3700 students in Years five to twelve, from 24 schools in three dioceses, have completed the survey on-line. Analysis of a number of questions about social networking, that is, the use of on-line programs such as Facebook, Linked-In and Google+, designed to build and reflect social networks, has revealed some
interesting findings among secondary school students.

Young people find their sense of peace and happiness in many different ways. Many spend time with friends or family, many listen to music, watch DVDs or play sport. Some use their creative abilities and paint or do craft, while others get close to nature by going on a bushwalk or down to the beach. For a few young people praying or meditating, or attending church or youth group contributes to happiness. There are also a few young people who drink alcohol or take drugs as they search for peace and happiness. In addition to these activities, some young people see social networking as making a major contribution to happiness. Around 38 per cent of students indicated that using social networking sites was very important in finding a sense of peace and happiness.

When asked how often in the previous 12 months they had used social networking sites (apart from what they did at school), almost three quarters of students stated they had used it often. Frequent use of social networking was higher among females than males (76 per cent compared with 69 per cent). A higher proportion of males than females had never used social networking (13 per cent compared with eight per cent). Table 1 provides further detail.

Using responses from a number of different questions from the survey it is possible to categorise students into social networking “types”: The Convinced Networker, the Frequent Networker, the Positive Networker and the Tentative Networker

The surveys asked several questions about students satisfaction with various aspects of life. In most respects, the different Networking types were little different in their levels of satisfaction. Only in one area were the differences statistically significant: the Convinced Networkers were more satisfied with their friends.

Ask a young person today how many friends they have, and the response they give will no doubt reflect the friends they have face-to-face contact with many times a week, those they see a number of times per month, and perhaps those they catch up with not as regularly. Most young people today will also count “friends” they may never have met, about whom they know very little, and with whom, if they met them in the school yard or other social place, they may have little in common.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 4, Pages 8-11

Belief Among Catholic Secondary Students: 2005 and 2011 Comparisons

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

A recent Pointers article (Hughes, 2011) discussed the widespread decline in the religiosity of young people in various countries, including Australia. In many countries there is evidence to suggest that there has been an increase in secularisation in society, and certainly in Australia, change in the nature of religion and spirituality. Examination of two large ‘matched’ samples of students from different points of time may shed some light on more general cultural changes.

Having undertaken surveys of more than 4,100 students in 30 Catholic schools in four dioceses in 2011, the Christian Research Association can compare the most recent data to data from surveys conducted among a similar number of students between 2005 and 2008. With two different cohorts of students, we can investigate changes in student’s attitudes and beliefs. Is interest in religion really declining among students today? Are changes in beliefs affecting their private and public religious practices? Do changes in beliefs affect satisfaction in life and sense of purpose?

For the majority of students life is about enjoyment and making the best of it. This attitude of 86 per cent of students has not changed since 2005. However, around 15 per cent of students are ‘hurting deep inside’ and struggling to find where to get help (a slight drop from 17 per cent in 2005). Many students are happy with their lives even though, for some, life lacks a sense of purpose. In the 2011 surveys, students indicated greater confidence in what they believed than did students in 2005. Just under one third of students (30%) said they found it hard to know what to believe about life compared with 44 per cent of students in 2005.

In 2011, when asked about their belief in God, there were only slight changes: 38 per cent of students stated that “there is a God who is a personal being involved in the lives of people today”, compared with 40 per cent in 2005. In the 2005 surveys, 9 per cent of students did not think there was any sort of God, compared with 10 per cent in 2011. However, among Australian students born of Australian parents, belief in a personal God dropped from 37 per cent to 34 per cent between 2005 and 2011.

In 2011, fewer students (25%) said they were attending church services monthly or more often, compared to students in 2005 (30%). However, there was also a decline in the proportion of students who never attended: from 41 per cent in 2005 to 37 per cent in 2005. The increase has been in occasional attendance (39 per cent in 2011 compared with 29 per cent in 2005, as shown in Table 1).

Students are now more inclined to question the authority of the church. In 2005, 24 per cent said it was generally or definitely wrong to question church authority, and by 2011, around 17 per cent said that it was wrong. However, there was only a slight change in the affirmation of the statement ‘I think we should just believe and not question our beliefs’ (26 per cent in 2005 and 25 per cent in 2011). While there are some significant differences between young people from the two rounds of surveys, the latest results suggest that students continue to construct their own beliefs and spirituality for life without necessarily adhering to the teachings of the Church or school.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 1, Pages 9-12

Ministry in Anglican Schools: Issues and Principles

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

While congregations are dwindling, church schools are growing. The proportion of Australians sending their children to schools associated with a Christian denomination has continued to grow for many years. Close to one-third of all students now attend a Christian school. Catholic schools are by far the largest part of this with more than 1,700 schools across Australia. The second largest group is the 147 Anglican schools. In many denominations, however, questions are being asked about why the denomination should sponsor schools, what their aims should be, and what forms of ministry are appropriate in schools where few students are committed to the Christian faith. A new book from Anglican Schools Australia, Ministry in Anglican Schools: Principles and Practicalities, explores some of these issues.

While all dioceses desire that their schools be ‘educational centres of excellence’, there are some differences in the way the dioceses are expressing their vision for their schools in relation to faith. Dioceses must proceed sensitively, Smith says. While recognising the various stakeholders, they should take an inclusive and affirmative stance, and offer relevant assistance in the achievement of the vision through providing trained and capable people, such as chaplains and board members, and in providing resources and directions for religious education.

It is stated in many parts of the book that the principal should be a spiritual leader in the school and the school leadership team should take responsibility for the spiritual ethos of the school. Nevertheless, in practice, much of the responsibility for Christian ministry falls into the hands of the chaplain. Several chapters in the book explore the ministry of the chaplain. In various ways, these chapters draw attention to the complexity of that ministry and the tensions inherent in some of the roles.

Another tension in the role of chaplain is explored in a chapter on the relationship between chaplains and counsellors. The chapter notes that schools often see chaplains and counsellors as interchangeable. Some schools have reduced the hours of chaplaincy when a counsellor was appointed. In other schools, the chaplain is seen as the sole counsellor. Pastoral care takes a variety of forms through teaching in class, preaching in the chapel, yard duty, and leading in sacraments and liturgies.

Religious education is a component of the curriculum in most Anglican schools. Surprisingly, there is little in this book about this component of ministry in schools. One chapter describes the attempt to develop a subject called ‘Christian Development’. The intention was to develop a course which would develop students’ critical thinking skills and challenge them to explore what it means to practise the Christian faith in contemporary Australia (p.294). It involved studies in Biblical theology, Christian mission, Christian apologetics, the history of Christian thought as well as New and Old Testaments. Some units were developed at Moore College, Sydney. It is hoped that such a course will contribute to ‘society-changing and kingdom building transformational renewing of minds’ (p.303).

The ministry of education is one in which young people are transformed for living in and contributing to the world. Every part of the life of the schools contributes to this ministry.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 4, Pages 18-20

Taking Holistic Education Seriously

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Taking Holistic Education Seriously
by Philip Hughes and Stephen Reid

ISBN: 978-1-875223-73-2

This paper shows how schools can and do contribute to the holistic education of their students.  Holistic education is defined by this paper in terms of the development of people’s relationships with themselves and their friends, and a development of a commitment to the wider society, the natural environment and religious faith. Based on surveys in 29 Catholic schools in four dioceses and two States, it suggests ways in which schools can measure and assess their influence.

Belief Among Catholic Secondary Students: 2005 And 2011 Comparisons

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Examination of two large ‘matched’ samples of students from different points in time has shed light on some general cultural changes that have taken place among Catholic Secondary students in Australia. Recent surveys of over 4,100 students from 29 schools found that change has taken place in the beliefs and faith activities of young people, when compared to similar number of surveyed students in 2005.

For the majority of young people life is about enjoyment and making the best of it. However, fewer students in 2011 felt they had a sense of purpose in life when compared to students in 2005. Students who indicated they believe in God, or some sort of spirit or life force were more likely to state they had a sense of purpose in life, than those who did not believe in God or who did not know what to think.

Although fewer students said they were attending church services monthly or more often compared to students in 2005, the proportion of students attending services less frequently had increased significantly. Also significant was the increase from 2005 in the proportion of students who had attended church services other than Catholic.

Whilst there is wide diversity in students’ beliefs and attitudes, results showed that students are now more inclined to question the authority of the church, and are less inclined to just believe without questioning their own faith. The latest results suggest that students continue to construct their own beliefs and spirituality for life without necessarily adhering to the teachings of the church or school.

Stephen Reid

The Spirituality Of Youth

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

The Spirituality of Youth and Ministry to Young People

Day 2 of the Roundtable on ‘Shaping Australia’s Spirituality’ focussed on ministry among young people.

Assoc Prof Kath Engebretson (ACU) spoke about the high levels of mental illness among young people. On the other hand, she noted that young people do have a spirituality that includes:

  • hope – especially for loving relationships;
  • capacity to be inspired;
  • strong networks of friends;
  • concern about social justice; and
  • a capacity for an experience of God.

Rev Dr Philip Hughes noted that there are many ways in which the churches interact with young people.

  • About 15 per cent of young people have a frequent connection with a church;
  • 30% of primary students and 38% of secondary students in Australia attend church-run schools; and
  • around 30% of government schools in Australia have chaplains and many more have religious education.

Yet, many young people are, at best, equivocal about the church and the Christian faith. For many, it is not their ‘cultural expression’. Claire Pickering expanded on how young people look to their own forms of music, for example, to express identity, cope with feelings, give assurance and encouragement.

Nor does the church represent a form of community that is familiar to most young people. While young people appreciate cooperation, peace and social justice, young people’s communities are often not pre-arranged or regular, but are informal ways of ‘hanging out’ or connecting electronically.

Overall, Philip Hughes concluded, students appreciate the care that is offered by the chaplains, schools and churches. But they are not generally impressed with the Christian faith – which they see as a matter of personal preference. While we are succeeding well in pastoral care, we are not succeeding well in the spiritual dimension of preparing young people to live well in the world.

For an audio version of these research presentations, right-click here to download an mp3 file.

For further details of the research, see Philip Hughes, Shaping Australia’s Spirituality: A Review of Christian Ministry in the Australian Context (2010, Mosaic Press, Melbourne).

The following people commented on this research and brought their own insights on ministry with young people:

  • Ruth Pinkerton (Scripture Union, Tasmania)
  • Malcolm Hart (Youth Ministry, Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference)
  • Jeanette Woods (Christian Schools Association)
  • Grant Bickerton and Dave Huddleston (Campus Crusade for Christ)

For an audio version of these reflections and comments on the research, right-click here to download an mp3 file.