Leading Australian Catholic Schools: Lessons from the Edge

  • Michael GaffneyEmail author


At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Catholic schools in Australia lie on the edge of possibility. In this chapter a series of themes are presented about leading Catholic schools ‘on the edge’. The author shares his insights about Catholic schools (i) on the edge of the mainstream through reference to their position as nongovernment schools in policy and funding terms relative to schools in the public sector and secular Australian and State/Territory governments and statutory authorities, (ii) on the edge of town highlighting the context and challenges of Catholic schools serving diverse low, middle and high SES communities and the hope and distinctive educational opportunities they promote, and (iii) on the edge of faith drawing upon ecclesial writings, research findings and emerging forms of governance relating to the authenticity and sustainability of Catholic schools. The message from these insights is that leading Catholic schools ‘on the edge’ not only requires a thorough understanding of the local community context; broader educational trends, accountabilities and opportunities; and the teachings and changes in the Church; but also an appreciation of what emerging Catholic school communities can be. The implication is that Catholic school leaders need to have a vision for Catholic schools on the edge of possibility that encompasses the challenges of distinctiveness, equity, diversity, authenticity and sustainability; and the capability to share and realize that vision.


Catholic schools Catholic school governance Catholic Social teaching Educational disadvantage External testing Faith Funding Leadership Mainstream (schooling) School reform 


  1. Andrews, D. J., Conway, M., Dawson, M., Lewis, J., McMaster, A., & Morgan, H. (2004). School revitalisation: The IDEAS way (ACEL monograph series, no 34). Winmalee: Australian Council for Educational Leaders.Google Scholar
  2. Australian Catholic University – Flagship for Creative and Authentic Leadership. (2007). System leadership framework. Strathfield: ACU.Google Scholar
  3. Australian Council for Educational Leaders (2010). ACEL leadership capability framework. Retrieved January 18, 2013, from
  4. Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2011). National professional standard for principals. Carlton South: Education Services Australia.Google Scholar
  5. Benjamin, A. (2011, February). Fulfilling the mission. Education Review, pp. 12–13.Google Scholar
  6. Bevans, S. (2009). The mission has a church, the mission has ministries: Thinking missiologically about ministry and the shortage of priests. Compass, 3, 3–14.Google Scholar
  7. Bishops of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. (2007). Catholic schools at a crossroads. A pastoral letter of the bishops of NSW and the ACT. Sydney: Catholic Education Office, Sydney.Google Scholar
  8. Byron, W. J. (1998). Ten building blocks of Catholic social teaching. New York: America Press.Google Scholar
  9. Caldwell, B. J., & Spinks, J. M. (2008). Raising the stakes: From improvement to transformation in the reform of schools. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Canavan, K. (1995). Why parents choose (or don’t choose) a Catholic school. Australasian Catholic Record, 62(3), 298–305.Google Scholar
  11. Catholic Education Commission New South Wales. (2005). Catholic and non-Catholic students in NSW Catholic schools 1988–2004: Report to the bishops of NSW and ACT. Sydney: CECNSW.Google Scholar
  12. Chapman, J. D. (2008). Learning-centred leadership: Policies and strategies across OECD countries targeting the relationship between leadership, learning and school outcomes. A report to the OECD, Paris. The Centre for Lifelong Learning, Australian Catholic University. Retrieved January 5, 2013, from
  13. Congregation for Catholic Education (2009, May 5). Circular letter to the Presidents of Bishops’ conferences, Vatican.Google Scholar
  14. Croke, B. (2007). Australian Catholic schools in a changing political and religious landscape. In G. R. Grace & J. O’Keefe (Eds.), International handbook of Catholic education (pp. 811–834). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Crowther, F. (2012). From school improvement to sustained capacity. Moorabbin: Hawker Brownlow Education.Google Scholar
  16. Crowther, F., Andrews, D., Morgan, A., & O’Neill, S. (2012). Hitting the bullseye of school improvement: The IDEAS project at work in a successful school system. Leading and Managing, 18(2), 1–34.Google Scholar
  17. Duignan, P. (2006). Educational leadership: Key challenges and ethical tensions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Elmore, R. F. (2009). The problem of capacity in the (re)design of educational accountability systems. In M. A. Rebell & J. R. Wolff (Eds.), NNCLB at the crossroads: Re-examining the federal effort to close the achievement gap (pp. 230–261). New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  19. Fullan, M. (1998). The meaning of educational change: A quarter of a century of learning. In A. Hargreaves, A. Lieberman, M. Fullan, & D. Hopkins (Eds.), International handbook of educational change (pp. 214–228). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  20. Gaffney, M. (2012). Leadership capabilities for developing numeracy. The Australian Educational Leader, 34(2), 30–35.Google Scholar
  21. Gaffney, M., & Faragher, R. (2010). Sustaining improvement in numeracy: Developing pedagogical content knowledge and leadership capabilities in Tandem: Leadership of Reform in Mathematics Education. Mathematics Teacher Education and Development Journal (MTED), Special issue 11(2).Google Scholar
  22. Gaffney, M., & Faragher R. (2014). Leading improvements in student numeracy. Hawthorn: ACER Press.Google Scholar
  23. Gillard, J. (2012). A national plan for school improvement, speech to National Press Club, Canberra. Retrieved September 5, 2012, from
  24. Grace, G. (2010, October). Renewing spiritual capital: an urgent priority for the future of Catholic education internationally. International Studies in Catholic Education, 2(2), 117–128.Google Scholar
  25. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. (2004). Compendium of the social doctrine of the church. Vatican: St Pauls.Google Scholar
  26. McLaughlin, D. (2005, August). The dialectic of Australian Catholic education. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality, 10(2), 215–233.Google Scholar
  27. Miller, M. J. (2006). The Holy See’s teaching on Catholic schools. Vatican: St Pauls.Google Scholar
  28. Morrissey, F. (2011, September). The right of the baptised to be involved in the Church’s mission. Paper presented at the On Sacred Ground conference, Brighton-le-Sands, Sydney, NSW. Unpublished.Google Scholar
  29. National Catholic Education Commission. (2002). Catholic school governance – Guidelines for the constitution of Catholic school boards. Canberra: NCEC.Google Scholar
  30. National Catholic Education Commission. (2010). Insight – Catholic education in Australia 2010. Canberra: NCEC.Google Scholar
  31. National Catholic Education Commission. (2011a). Submission to the review of funding for schooling (The Gonski Review). Retrieved March 31, 2011, from
  32. National Catholic Education Commission. (2011b). Australian Catholic schools: Why we have them? What they aim to achieve. Retrieved February 13, 2011, from
  33. Olsen, B., & Sexton, D. (2009, March). Threat rigidity, school reform, and how teachers view their work inside current education policy contexts. American Educational Research Journal, 46 (1), 9–44.Google Scholar
  34. Pettit, P. (2010). From data-informed to data-led? School leadership within the context of external testing. Leading and Managing, 16(2), 90–107.Google Scholar
  35. Pope John Paul II. (1992). Pastores dabo vobis. Vatican: Roman Catholic Church.Google Scholar
  36. Robinson, V. (2007, October). School leadership and student outcomes: Identifying what works and why (ACEL Monograph Series, 41). Winmalee: Australian Council for Educational Leaders.Google Scholar
  37. Robinson, K. (2011). Out of our minds: Learning to be creative. Hoboken: Capstone/Wiley.Google Scholar
  38. Sarason, S. B. (1990). The predictable failure of educational reform: Can we change course before it’s too late? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  39. Thornber, J. (2012). Cultivating fertile ground – Formation for canonical governance. PhD thesis, Australian Catholic University, Canberra.Google Scholar
  40. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (2005). Co-workers in the vineyard of the lord – Development of lay ecclesial ministry. Retrieved January 13, 2013, from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Education, Science, Technology and MathsUniversity of CanberraCanberraAustralia

Personalised recommendations