Dr Dan White,
Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools:
I am often asked why Catholic schools see a need to promote our schools’ various achievements in a special week of celebrations. That is an easy question for me to answer: Catholic Schools Week is an opportunity to reflect on what our Catholic schools mean to the more than 70,200 students and their parents.
A commitment to develop in young people a relationship with a loving God sits at the heart of what our Catholic schools are all about. The Catholic values that have been the foundation of our schools since the early 1800s are as important today as they were then.
The reputation that our schools have for academic achievement is well earned. As a parent myself, I know that there are few more important decisions than choosing which school to send our precious children to. Parents have a right to expect high standards and quality teaching. Every parent wants to be sure that their child will receive a range of other educational experiences, and feel safe, nurtured and cared for.
It is an extraordinary vote of confidence from parents when they send their child to one of our schools. Catholic schools remain popular in Australia because of what they offer to young people, their families and the wider community: a great educational experience and a strong sense of belonging.
Our teachers and support staff create opportunities for their students to grow and thrive, and they place the wellbeing of every student at the centre of everything they do.
Whether it is literacy and numeracy, the performing arts, sport, public speaking, social outreach, leadership opportunities or personal growth experiences, staff are driven to give students the opportunities to do more and be more.
Catholic Schools Week is also a time to remember that we have a responsibility to reach out to all sections of society – especially the poor and the marginalised. Ever since the first Catholic schools opened in Sydney, they have been focused on helping those who experience disadvantage.
At a time when there is a great deal of debate in Australia about how we should treat those seeking protection from suffering and persecution in their own country, I am proud of the principled, compassionate stance that our community of schools has taken on this issue, particularly in relation to the practice of keeping children in immigration detention.
On a broader level, we will continue to do all we can to support all in our community whose needs are great and opportunities few. Through the work of the Catholic Education Foundation, our schools provide financial support in the form of bursaries and mentoring programs to help families to meet the cost of educating their children in a Catholic school. No child is ever denied the opportunity to attend a Catholic school as a result of financial hardship.
The opening this year of our system’s first-ever school catering exclusively for secondary students with moderate intellectual disabilities and complex learning needs is something we are very proud of. The opening of Eileen O’Connor Catholic College at Lewisham is the start of a long-term plan to provide specialist facilities right across the Archdiocese so that we can better support students with these very specialised learning needs.
This year’s Catholic School Week theme is ‘I belong. You belong. We belong.’ I hope that you take the opportunity to drop in to one of the Catholic Schools Week activities at your local school and share in the celebrations. I know you will be very welcome.