Enhancing Catholic School Identity report
On 1 August 2019, the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria Ltd (CECV) and Catholic University Leuven (KU Leuven) entered into a new Service Level Agreement (SLA), which will conclude on 31 July 2023.
The new SLA maintains core elements present in earlier contracts, such as:
- KU Leuven’s facilitation of the annual survey research in schools
- provision of the ECSI Standard Report to all school principals following their community’s completion of the ECSI survey
- Annotated Report and qualitative research offered as an Opt-in ECSI Service.
Highlights of the new SLA include:
- application of the new Searching for Parish Engagement Scale (SPES) about the identity of Catholic parishes, which is conducted alongside the ECSI research in schools
- support of the Australian ECSI Professional Learning Consortium (AEPLC) to the Prayer Renewal Project, which will develop classroom tools and processes for an enhanced culture of Catholic prayer.
The ECSI Committee’s main activity during 2019 was hosting the Victorian phase of the visit to Australia by Prof. Dr Didier Pollefeyt and Dr Jan Bouwens. Highlights of their program in Melbourne included presentations on:
- aggregated data – comparing 2019 data with 2011 data, which clearly showed that secularisation is not inevitable
- 10 draft criteria for prayer, which were reviewed by a group within the Catholic Leadership team at Catholic Education Melbourne, with various recommendations being made to the broader AEPLC
- six new questions for the Post-critical Belief Scale to replace a more complex and longer series of questions. These will, from 2020, be made available to all survey respondents.
There was also a Victorian interdiocesan day, covering the most appropriate pedagogies for Religious Education, with a case study presented by school leaders, featuring one school from each diocese.
In 2019, 131 Catholic primary and secondary schools across Victoria participated in the ECSI survey round, with 91 of these being Melbourne schools. All 131 schools received the new ECSI Standard Report inclusive of ‘data-over-time’. This data-over-time is instrumental in illustrating the strength of Catholic identity between two quadrennial survey rounds, with the most recent being 2015 and 2019.
Catholic identity and school improvement
Of increasing importance for the system and schools is the move from data to action for improved school effectiveness – an understanding that action, and not data alone, will effect change.
An issue generating considerable discussion in 2019 was the number of schools under review using the National School Improvement Tool, which has no specific reference to the catholicity of a school.
Discussions resulted in a commitment by Catholic Education Melbourne to ensure the use of the School Improvement Framework (SIF) Rubric, regardless of the model of review employed. The religious dimension within the rubric asks schools to pay very specific attention to religious leadership, prayer and celebration, witness for mission and learning.
Highlights from the ECSI survey
The year 2019 finished well, with data showing that secularisation is not inevitable. Analysis comparing 2019 survey data with 2011 survey data reflected a stronger Catholic identity in our schools.
In examining the results of the combined staff, we noticed that schools have become more dialogical in their approach. Rather than seeing ‘Catholic identity slippage’, staff observed a stronger presence of Catholic identity in their schools compared to eight years ago.
Primary schools did not become more secular. When the primary school students’ results were examined, we also noticed positive trends, indicating young people are able to reflect more deeply on their faith and perceive more traits of the Catholic Dialogue School model compared to the 2011 results. This can be illustrated by the increase in these students’ understanding of what it is to be in the world and be a person of faith, as evidenced by scores for Recontextualisation increasing from 4.40/7 to 4.78/7.
The secularising patterns among secondary school students also decreased.
When comparing 2011 and 2019 data, there was a positive trend towards an increased Catholic identity. The unbelieving attitude of External Critique decreased significantly, from 3.39/7 to 2.94/7. Secondary school students confirmed that the Catholic identity of their colleges has become a little more noticeable in the past few years.
Overall, we found empirical evidence for the shift towards a Catholic Dialogue School model.
Compared to where schools might have been without it, the ECSI project is making a significant impact on a stronger Catholic school identity.
We are focused on increasing the momentum realised in 2019, and continue to work with our school communities in order to promote and accelerate this shift to shape the present and the future of Catholic education in Melbourne.