Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Review of priests' role in running Victorian schools

A push to overhaul Victorian Catholic schools is gaining momentum, with principals and pastors saying that priests do not have the training, time, or expertise to manage schools, according to The Age.

The Victorian Association of Catholic Primary Schools recently asked Australian Catholic University academics to review the governance of Catholic schools.

"We believe it is becoming more common that the parish priest is just feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities," said Chris Branson, who is leading the review.

Professor Branson said that as Catholic school enrolments had grown, the number of priests had declined and parishes had merged. 

"There are some schools where the parish priest has said this is beyond them."

Catholic Education Commission of Victoria executive director Stephen Elder remained tight-lipped on the issue. 

"We have a rigorous accountability framework to both the Commonwealth and State governments," he said.

But Fr Kevin Dillon from St Mary of the Angels Parish in Geelong said running schools has become increasingly complex, particularly when it came to compliance and accountability.

"I have four primary schools in my parish and I am not sure that priests are equipped with the time and expertise to undertake the ultimate responsibility for schools," he said. "We are not educationalists."

Unlike other states, priests in Victoria have a significant management role in Catholic schools.

They have to employ principals, oversee financial processes, staff wellbeing, and occupational health and safety protocols.

They can be held legally liable if they fail to carry out these duties, but they do not receive any formal mandatory training for their role as employer in schools. 

It is expected that the federal royal commission will recommend changes to the role of priests in schools.

Principals Association of Victorian Catholic Secondary Schools president Mark Sheehan said parish priests did not have the "interest, expertise, or the time" to run schools. 

"Regional colleges need to be in a position to select, induct, and maintain people of a high standard, such as happens with company directors."

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