Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Armidale are putting their best foot forward this month as they celebrate what makes them different from other educational facilities across the region and invite parents of 2020 kindergarten students to information sessions.
The Catholic Schools Office (CSO) Diocese of Armidale administers 24 schools comprising 19 primary schools, two central schools and three secondary schools on behalf of Bishop Michael Kennedy, Bishop of Armidale. The theme of this year's Catholic Education Week is 'Mission, Learn, Care'.
"The theme reflects the quality learning and teaching that is underpinned by strong pastoral care for all our staff and students," said CSO director Chris Smyth.
"Our schools' emphasis on strong foundations in literacy and numeracy-whilst, ensuring that the capabilities of communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking are well developed-is preparing students for their future world."
Mr Smyth said the problematic climate in regional Australia and recent negative media around the conviction of Cardinal Pell had not stopped schools in the Armidale Diocese from flourishing and many non-Catholic families were choosing a Catholic education for their children.
The percentage of Catholic families in each school cohort ranges from just 20 percent at St Patrick's Primary in Walcha (the lowest in the Diocese), to 90 percent at St Nicholas' Primary School in Tamworth ( the highest in the Diocese), with an average of 55 percent across the schools in the region; and the non-Catholic family enrolment numbers are increasing he said.
As a child-safe organisation, we consciously and publicly commit to putting the safety and wellbeing of children at the centre of our values, thoughts and actions.CSO director Chris Smyth
"That's the great benefit of low fee Catholic schools - it gives choice to the community," said Mr Smyth.
"Catholic schools in this Diocese are enjoying strong enrolments despite the pressures of drought and declining small town populations and are open to all students, irrespective of their faith tradition.
"Recent controversies in the Church have not impacted on enrolments because our parents know and understand that our schools are safe places for their children. All of our schools strictly comply with all government child protection guidelines.
"As a child-safe organisation, we consciously and publicly commit to putting the safety and wellbeing of children at the centre of our values, thoughts and actions. To be effective, safeguarding requires genuine engagement with, listening, valuing and responding to children: respecting and upholding their rights and inherent dignity."
NAPLAN and HSC results also show the schools in the Diocese are performing comparatively well despite the challenges of rural and remote education.
"We have invested a lot of time and professional development over the last three or four years in building the ability of our teachers to improve numeracy and literacy in our schools," Mr Smyth said.
"One of the reasons we are performing well is we have dedicated literacy blocks.
It's not about the consequences it's about the effect on othersChris Smyth
"We also introduced co-teaching in most of our schools which means two or three teachers working with groups of students based on the student's ability.
"Watching each other work also helps to build the capacity of the teachers because they learn better from each other when they are are not locked in a room on their own - it's a deprivatisation of teaching.
"In small places like Walcha it just happens during the literacy block but in some of the larger schools like Tamworth, Armidale, Gunnedah, Inverell and Moree it happens all day in flexible learning spaces."
Ultimately though it is the relationships within each school community which play a large part in its success Mr Smyth said.
"The success of the schools resides in their strong commitment to academic excellence and pastoral care," Mr Smyth said.
"The quality pastoral care is based on the core values of the Catholic faith community. The positive relationships between students and teachers supports the learning outcomes for all students.
"We have strong approaches around bullying and building relationships as well as behaviour management strategies that give students the ability to learn from their mistakes and understand the effect their behaviour is having on other people.
"It's not about the consequences it's about the effect on others."