Faith-based education remains a “fundamental and important option for families” as the future of schooling is transformed across the state, NSW Premier Chris Minns has told a Sydney Catholic Schools Conference.
“As a parent, I want to see my kids be able to have the same faith-based education that I was able to have as a student, and as premier I firmly believe that having a faith-based education system is a fundamental and important option for families,” Minns said.
In affirming faith-based education from a personal and professional perspective, the premier said teachers influence their students well beyond the classroom.
“A teacher can pick an insecure teenager and see something in them that they don’t see in themselves, and then brick by brick, build up their confidence and knowledge, and then hopefully unleash them on the world,” he said.
“Defining excellence in education to me means having a system that leaves no child behind and gives every student the tools they need to enter adult life with every chance of success.”
Students from St Patrick Sutherland, Marist College Eastwood and Marcellin College Randwick opened the SCS Architects of Change forum on 8 November with a prayerful hymn before the premier’s keynote address.
The forum saw educators, leaders and industry stakeholders come together to hear ongoing and future plans for Sydney’s 147 primary and secondary Catholic schools, with ABC journalist Leigh Sales guiding the conference as MC.
“In the space of education, the goal is to deliver better outcomes for all children and to give them the tools to have functional, productive lives, rooted in kindness and caring for community,” Sales said.
Sydney Catholic Schools chief of staff Dr Jacquelin Frost said change was most effective when it was “built based upon a clear need or problem.”
Dr Frost, a strategic advisor for key initiatives across the Catholic school sector, said for change to work, it must be embraced by all stakeholders.
“While building mechanisms for contemporary engagement, we need to build trust to take action,” she said.
“We did this in relation to COVID. We followed these similar patterns for school amalgamations and the initiatives in pursuit of excellence.”
Executive director of polling company Essential Media Peter Lewis joined Dr Frost for a panel discussion, with Sydney Morning Herald education editor Lucy Carroll and communications professional Katrina Brangwin.
Lewis agreed that Catholic education can benefit from change by giving agency to those the system is changing with, as opposed to simply declaring it to them.
“Recognise that change is a verb, not a noun,” he said.
But a commitment to achieving excellence, traditionally measured by metrics like HSC and NAPLAN test results, also needs to account for important metrics harder to quantify.
“Metrics reflect our ambition and our commitment as a system, and they point to our mission to see each student flourish in the image and likeness of God,” said director of education and research at SCS, Kevin Carragher.
“But not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
“We’re unapologetically ambitious about our performance … but what really matters is our students.
“We know they need the capacity to engage, to think, be creative and be critical because that’s what the world requires them to do.
“It’s far from being just about academic achievement, fundamentally it’s about our capacity to shape people of faith, of intellect and of character, to equip them to flourish and to make a meaningful change in our world, and that’s what really matters.”
Patrician Brothers Fairfield vice-principal Anthony Ndaira spoke to The Catholic Weekly during a networking session about the most important “uncountable” metric.
“The idea of belonging or connecting or evangelisation, that’s what really separates us as a system,” he said.
Mr Ndaira said the critical shortage of teachers across Australia meant the staffing scene has “completely changed.”
But he was hopeful that Catholic schools would address the shortages as part of their commitment to educational excellence.
“We celebrated 200 years of Catholic education not long ago, but it’s the next 200 years that we need to be stewards of,” he said.