Procedures for Evaluating Ongoing School Viability

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Procedures for Evaluating Ongoing School Viability

 

Introduction

Occasionally Catholic communities need to consider the future viability of their local school. In some instances the possibility of closing a Catholic school needs to be considered by those parish communities. Catholic Education Melbourne (CEM) has established procedures and a number of guidelines1 to assist school communities and their governing authorities to identify key indicators that may initiate movement towards a school amalgamation or closure.

This document provides information to assist school authorities in this process.

Establishment of a working party

Usually as a result of a significant decline in the Catholic population or enrolments, the local canonical authorities and/or CEM will initiate a proposal to evaluate the viability of a school. The first step in the process, prior to any decision to merge or close a school, is for the local canonical authority and/or CEM to convene a working party to study the proposal. Membership of the working party should normally consist of various stakeholders including, but not limited to:

  • the local canonical authority (Parish Priest/Canonical Association representative/ Congregation representative)
  • the principal of the concerned school
  • principals of other schools in the parish or catchment area
  • two representatives nominated by the Parish Priest, one of whom is a parent from the school concerned
  • representatives from CEM, as appointed by the Director, including one from the region.

In the case of Congregational schools CEM would only participate in such an activity when requested by the Congregation. In the case of a joint project involving Congregational and regional schools, it is usual for a letter to be sent from the particular Congregation to the Director of Catholic Education requesting the involvement of CEM staff.

It is advisable that the following matters are determined before a working party is convened and begins its deliberations:

  • the appointment and role of the chairperson
  • the size and composition of the group
  • working party procedures regarding the number and schedule of meetings, voting procedures, confidentiality of documents and draft reports
  • the consultative process, its format and time frame
  • the reporting process
  • the time frame for reporting.

Tasks to be undertaken

Three key tasks of the working party are:

  • Consultation with stakeholders
  • Evaluating viability against key indicators of viability and benchmarks
  • Reporting and recommendations.

Consultation with stakeholders

Led by the working party, community engagement and consultation must be part of the whole process. Comment and opinion from stakeholders are to be sought via public forums, focus groups, surveys, and/or written submissions.

Evaluating viability against key indicators of viability and benchmarks

Key indicators

In determining the viability of a school, the working party will consider the following indicators or evidence:

  • Pastoral Mission. The call of Christ to his followers is to, ‘make disciples of all nations …’. Therefore there needs to be a strong link between the school and the work of the local parish. Ensuring the integration of school activities into the life of the parish is pivotal.
  • Enrolments. A Catholic school must have the potential to maintain high numbers of Catholic students as a proportion of total enrolments to support the pastoral mission of the school, and sufficient enrolments in total to support the delivery of comprehensive educational programs.
  • Educational Programs. A school must be able to provide a comprehensive curriculum based on the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) and suitable assessment and reporting procedures, supported by sound educational leadership and professional teaching standards.
  • Finance. The school must demonstrate an ongoing capacity to meet loans and to provide upgrades and maintenance of facilities, staffing within funding entitlements, and a comprehensive curriculum.
  • Site/Facilities. The site should be safe and of adequate size and the facilities suitable to conduct the required educational programs. There needs to be a capacity to meet a regular planned maintenance program for all facilities within budget.

The working party should evaluate the school in each of the above criteria against a set of CEM benchmarks. These are as follows:

Benchmarks

Pastoral Mission  

  • The quality of the Religious Education program as commented on in the school review
  • The integration of Catholic beliefs, values and practices into the curriculum and school activities
  • The Catholicity of students at the school
  • The degree of integration between school and parish or parishes
  • Linkage to the broader missionary activities of the parish(es).

Minimum Enrolments  

  • 120 students for P–6 primary schools
  • 220 students for junior secondary Years 7–10 schools
  • 300 students for senior secondary Years 11–12 schools
  • 530 students for full secondary Years 7–12 schools
  • and the requirement that schools maximise their Catholic enrolments overall and as a proportion of total enrolments.

Educational Programs  

  • The capacity to implement VELS is a key requirement, as is the teaching of Religious Education. Recent school development plans and school review reports need to be considered by the working party.
  • In the case of secondary schools, the breadth of subject offering (especially for VCE) should be evaluated for suitability, comprehensiveness, and the needs of the school community.

Finance  

  • Capacity to meet normal expenditure requirements
  • Maintenance of cash reserves of over 5% of total annual income
  • Minimal reliance on Special Factor Support
  • Capacity to generate an overall surplus over a period of time
  • Staffing within agreed funding entitlements over a period of time.

Site/Facilities  

  • The Archdiocese of Melbourne has adopted the Australian Government Guidelines area standards to determine the appropriate size for school sites and facilities. In primary schools, authorities should aim for the total area of all facilities to be close to 6.13 m² per primary student and 9.75 m² per secondary student (see Planning for Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, 3rd edition, 2004, Appendix 1, for detailed guidelines).
  • A schedule of recommended site sizes can be found in section 2.3.2 of Planning for Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, 3rd edition, 2004.
Additional considerations

Access to quality Catholic education by Catholic children is a priority for the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Any assessment concerning a possible school merger or closure needs at all times to take into account alternative educational options.

Schools should not necessarily be earmarked for closure because they fail to meet one of the above benchmarks. Such benchmarks inform the decision, but other detailed evidence should also be considered, including:

  • general demographic data of the school, the parish and the regional area, including specific population indicators such as a breakdown of age distribution, religious denomination, ethnicity, household structures, urban development and forecast populations trends (data are available from Census and municipal reports, as well as from CEM)
  • the social and cultural impact on the local community
  • transport facilities
  • alternative education possibilities.
Reporting and recommendations

The working party reports its recommendation(s) to:

  • the Director of Catholic Education
  • in case of parish primary schools, the parish priest
  • in case of secondary schools, the responsible canonical authority.

The canonical authority would then request the Director’s support in seeking the approval of the Archbishop for the implementation of the recommendation(s). The request for the Archbishop’s approval of the proposed changes is then sent by the Director of Catholic Education on behalf of the parish or canonical authority.

After the approval of the Archbishop has been obtained, a further consultative process for informing the school staff(s) and the parish and/or school communities of the decision would then be followed.

Notification to the relevant Victorian and Australian Government authorities would be made by the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria Ltd as the system authority.
 


Endnote
1 These are fully set out in the resource Planning for Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, 3rd edition, CEM, 2004.

CEM May 2008