Procedures for Evaluating Ongoing School Viability

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Procedures for Evaluating Ongoing School Viability in the Archdiocese of Melbourne

Introduction

In some instances Catholic communities are required to consider the future viability of their local school. On occasion local factors will create a scenario where the possibility of closing a Catholic school should be considered by those parish communities. To support this process, Catholic Education Melbourne implements good practice procedures and guidelines to assist school communities and their governing authorities to identify key indicators to understand the viability of the school and to begin to address enrolment decline or undertake to amalgamate or close a school.

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, in partnership with Catholic Education Melbourne, will propose to evaluate the viability of a school. The first step in the process, prior to any decision to amalgamate or close a school, is for the local canonical authority and Catholic Education Melbourne to convene a working party to study the proposal. Membership of the working party normally consists of various stakeholders including, but not limited to:

  • the local canonical authority (parish priest/canonical association representative/congregation representative)
  • the principal of the school to be evaluated
  • 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 Catholic Education Melbourne, as appointed by the Executive Director, including one from the particular region.
In the case of congregational schools, Catholic Education Melbourne would only be part of the working party when requested by the congregation. In the case of a joint project involving congregational and regional schools, the process begins with a letter sent from the particular congregation to the Executive Director requesting the involvement of Catholic Education Melbourne 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 a Chair
  • the size and composition of the group
  • working party procedures regarding the number and schedule of meetings, voting processes, confidentiality of documents and draft reports
  • the consultative process, its format and timeframe
  • the reporting process
  • the timeframe for reporting.
Tasks to be undertaken

The key tasks of the working party include:

  • consulting with stakeholders
  • evaluating viability against key indicators and benchmarks
  • reporting and recommendations.
Consultation with stakeholders

Led by the working party, community engagement and consultation is an integral part of the process. Comment and opinion from stakeholders is gathered via public forums, focus groups, surveys and/or written submissions.

After consultation with stakeholders, the working party may choose to implement processes that seek to increase enrolments at the school.

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’ (Mt 28: 19). 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 is required to provide a comprehensive curriculum based on the Victorian Curriculum 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 Catholic Education Melbourne benchmarks, which are as follows.

Benchmarks

Pastoral Mission  

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

Enrolments  

The minimum enrolment benchmarks below are to be used as a guide and form only one part of a detailed enrolment analysis. This includes:
  • assessment of the proximity of students to the school
  • capacity of the school to attract students from within the local parish
  • change in student numbers over time
  • capacity of the school to attract sufficient students in Prep to ensure optimal educational outcomes over the long term.
Notional enrolment benchmarks for each particular type of school to meet the requirement to deliver optimal education outcomes include:
  • 150 students for P–6 primary schools
  • 400 students for junior secondary Years 7–10 schools
  • 400 students for senior secondary Years 11–12 schools
  • 650 students for full secondary Years 7–12 schools.
Schools should aim to maximise their Catholic enrolments overall and as a proportion of total enrolments.

A school must meet the minimum student enrolment numbers required by the VRQA. A school must have a minimum of 20 students. A secondary school must have an average enrolment of 10 or more students for each year level. A specialist school must have a minimum of 11 students.

Refer to the VRQA Guidelines to the minimum standards for further information.
 

Educational Programs  

  • The capacity to implement the Victorian Curriculum 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 10% 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 area guidelines established by Catholic Capital Grants (Victoria) Ltd to determine the appropriate size for school sites and facilities. The current educative need is based on an area guideline of 6.13 m² per primary student and 9.75 m² per secondary student.
  • A schedule of recommended site sizes can be found in Planning for Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
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. Although these benchmarks inform the decision, detailed evidence such as the following should also be considered:

  • 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 population trends (data are available from Australian Bureau of Statistics Census and municipal reports, as well as from Catholic Education Melbourne)
  • social and cultural impacts on the local community
  • transport facilities
  • alternative education possibilities.
Reporting and recommendations

The working party will prepare a report that includes a (set of) formal recommendation(s) to be considered by the:

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

The canonical authority would then request the support of the Executive Director to seek approval from the Archbishop to implement the recommendation(s). The request for Archbishop approval is sent by the Executive Director of Catholic Education Melbourne on behalf of the parish or canonical authority.

After Archbishop approval is obtained, a further consultative process is undertaken to inform school staff and the parish and/or school communities of the decision to implement the recommendation(s).

As the system authority, it is the responsibility of the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria Ltd (CECV) to notify the relevant Victorian and Australian government authorities of particular decisions, such as a school closure or amalgamation.


Catholic Education Melbourne 28 January 2019 (Revised)