Catholic Education Western Australia
Rationalisation of policy and creation of a centralised policy platform for schools
Context of the initiative
Catholic Education Western Australia Limited (CEWA) was established by the Bishops of Western Australia as the governing body for Catholic schools and offices in Western Australia. CEWA was established through the Constitution of CEWA and the System Order gazetted by the Minister for Education WA in accordance with the School Education Act 1999 (WA). The Catholic Education Commission of Western Australia (CECWA), as the Board of Directors of CEWA, must publish policies giving effect to the Bishops’ Mandate for Catholic Education in Western Australia, the System Agreement with the Minister for Education WA and relevant laws, as amended from time to time. The 163 Catholic schools in Western Australia operate under a common set of policy settings developed by CEWA, rather than on a separate diocese basis.
The specific policy statements are designed to help ensure a coherent and considered approach to Catholic education in Western Australia and ensure that CEWA meets its legislative and regulatory requirements.
All policy developed by the CECWA is designed to assist in enacting the Bishops’ Mandate to foster the continuous development and improvement of Catholic schools and to act on behalf of the Catholic community for the benefit of all Catholic school-aged children and young people, and all children and young people enrolled in CEWA schools, colleges, and early years learning and care facilities. The specific policy statements are designed to help ensure a coherent and considered approach to Catholic education in Western Australia and ensure that CEWA meets its legislative and regulatory requirements. In 2019, CECWA conducted a review of their policies which revealed inconsistencies and inefficiencies between the arrangements for system governance and the reality of the decision-making authority at the school level in delivering the Mandate.
Intent of the initiative
The intent of the review is to ensure that policies liberate teachers and principals from system tasks and decision making. Every minute a teacher or Principal is carrying out functions that can be performed by the system, no one is attending to the student-parent relationship. Every time a school staff member must reinvent a solution to a problem solved elsewhere is wasted time. CECWA currently has 38 policies totalling 140 pages articulating over 60 statutes, regulations, standards, common law, canon law, church teaching, and subject matter expertise. The policies reflect historical reactions to changes in legislation, compliance, deficits in school operation, and subject matter bias, rather than a holistic framework for good decision making delivering on the Bishop’s Mandate.
The policies are products of consultation processes involving subject matter experts and principals who interpret strategic policies through their school experience lens. Each policy includes behavioural statements made redundant by the introduction of the Code of Conduct in 2017 (which is not included in the 38 Policies). In short, the policies lack clarity, coherence, harmony and operational relevance. Adding to the burden on principals and decision makers, each one of the 163 schools has its own unique set of policies. One principal reported having 183, meaning there are thousands of policies across the system.
Steps taken and challenges faced
As a result of the review a single set of strategic level CECWA policies have been developed with delegations to the Executive Director to issue Executive Directives applying to all CEWA staff. CECWA will give Executive Directives the force of Policy. Executive Directives will define specific subjects about which principals may issue local Principal Directives (such as Incident Management). Otherwise, all principals will apply CECWA Policies and Executive Directives locally, relieving them of maintaining their own policies. CECWA policies will become lawful directions on Day 1, Term 1, 2021. The 38 policies will apply until then.
Executive Directives and supporting resources have been created and published on a searchable website allowing principals and decision makers to familiarise themselves with the new Policies and Executive Directives before they become law in 2021.
38 individual policies covering 140 pages are reduced to eight pages of policies grouped under four headings: Catholic Identity, Education, Community and Stewardship. The four subject headings are aligned to the four pillars of Catholic Education Western Australia. Executive Directives and supporting resources have been created and published on a searchable website allowing principals and decision makers to familiarise themselves with the new Policies and Executive Directives before they become law in 2021. Active engagement with principals began when the review was announced on 25 February 2019.
Informal feedback showed some principals were alarmed at 38 policies being reduced to as low as six. They interpreted this to mean they would have less material to guide them in their decision making. The feedback prompted CECWA to position Policies within a wider governance and resource framework. In response the ‘Policy Suite’ was developed. The ‘Policy Suite’ fleshed out the Policies with Directions, commentary and case studies.
Evaluations of the initiative
Since 29 August 2019, 300 senior leaders and their advisers have participated in 16 workshops held in Leederville, Bunbury, Kalgoorlie, Geraldton and Broome, including 104 principals and 90 assistants or deputies. Participants continue their input and discussion via Microsoft Teams. Anonymous feedback highly rated the workshops and the approach.
Workshop participants were overwhelmingly positive in their response to the establishment of a central policy platform, and removal of the need to maintain extensive local policies. They also welcomed the introduction of the searchable CEWA Handbook that included templates, proformas and online processes. The policy workshops also revealed and defined the level at which principals are equipped to contribute to policy development.
A second round of consultation was undertaken across 10 Catholic Education Leaders’ Forums held in July and August 2020. The intent was to test the content, structure and usefulness of the CEWA Handbook as a decision-making tool. CEWA subject matter experts, alongside the experience and learnings across the system, will add to what principals have offered to populate the CEWA Handbook with the full resources needed to operate a school within the System. The feedback from these sessions was positive and the intent is to go live on 1 January 2021.
In Western Australia, much work has also been done to Information Technology (IT) enable the collection and reporting of data such as enrolment, attendance, census etc. across the Western Australian Catholic system. Administration of Schools (AoS) based on a Microsoft platform, provides an integrated solution to enable the various services required to support the day-to-day operation of schools. Where, previously, tasks such as data management, marketing, human resources, facility management, finance and reporting all required suites of disparate software to maintain, AoS unites these functions into one central management system.
The Digital Technology Team at CEWA has used off the shelf Microsoft software (Sharepoint) to create the ‘Policy Suite’ that will host the policies and support materials created and updated by subject matter experts. The software is simple enough for any person to edit and publish materials after some short training.
This is part of a series of better practice examples to share how education systems and sectors across Australia are reducing the burden of compliance and administrative tasks on school leaders and teachers.