Who’s Coming To School Today?

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

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