In the last four years, the number of students enroling in schools in Australia has steadily risen, but one group of schools are seeing enrolments fall: Catholic schools.
Catholic education, provided by the Roman Catholic Church in Australia, is the second biggest provider of school-based education Down Under. The first was opened nearly 200 years ago by George Morley, a Roman Catholic teacher who was paid the handsome sum of one penny per student (“…provisioned from the Government Stores”, according to an account by Catholic educator Br Kelvin Canavan).
Lately, however, their numbers have been dwindling.
Of the 3,893,834 students enrolled in 9,477 schools in 2018, government data show only 765,735 (or 19.7 percent) are in Catholic schools. This figure represents a shortfall of 1,315 students from 2016. Independent schools, however, have seen enrolments rise from 547,374 in 2016 to 569,930 in 2018.
How else is the Catholic school system changing? Here are five facts and figures about Australia’s Catholic schools today:
1. Annual school fees are lower than independent schools
According to the National Catholic Education Commmission, a huge majority of Catholic schools keep fees below AU6,000 per student per year. Nearly three-fourths (73 percent) charge less than AU$3,000
per year). While this is higher than what government schools charge, it is significant lower than the AU$22,450 average fees charged by independent schools.
2. Enrolment growth is slow
Compared to government and independent schools, enrolments in Catholic schools between 2009 and 2018 are increasing the slowest. They grew by only eight percent, whereas government and independent schools increased by 11 percent and 17 percent respectively.
3. Demographic trends are impacting Catholic schools
Writing in The Conversation, Zoran Endekov, an Education Policy Fellow, Victoria University, refers to the “net overseas migration of more than two million people” as a possible reason impacting enrolment patterns at Catholic schools.
“Analysis of census data shows students who arrive in Australia in the three years before the census date are most likely to go to a government school. In 2016, 77 percent of these students attended a government school,” Endekov writes.
“Fewer of these students attend Catholic schools, with enrolments dropping from 12 percent in 2011, to nine percent in 2016 among migrant groups.”
4. ‘Religious values’ drive parents to send kids to Catholic schools
If academic results are what motivate parents to send children to independent schools, research shows that it’s religious values that drive parents to enrol their children in Catholic education.
“For many parents, academic results matter but other factors are also important. For parents who choose a Catholic or independent school, religious values are more important, while others make the choice simply for reasons of convenience or family reasons,” said Anne Hollonds.
Another survey showed parents valued the resourcing, discipline and performance of Catholic schools.
5. ‘Fun’ is not top priority for parents
A Monash University study found that parents of Catholic school students are the least concerned with “students having fun at school”. Only 14.5 percent of this group are concerned with this, compared with 22.5 percent and 18.5 percent among respondents who had sent their children to government schools and independent schools respectively.