Catholic Sector NSW
Inter-Diocesan Educational Accountability (IDEA) Group
Context of the initiative
The Catholic education sector in NSW is comprised of 11 diocesan school systems and 46 Catholic ‘independent’ schools. Dioceses vary in size, as do Catholic independent schools, and number of schools, and each has a Catholic School Agency to support and administer the delivery of Catholic education. Support across the sector is also provided by Catholic Schools NSW (CSNSW), and collectively, this system is recognised by State and Commonwealth governments as the NSW Catholic Schools system.
Like other non-government schools in Australia, Catholic schools in NSW are subject to administrative and reporting requirements from both the Commonwealth and State governments. In NSW, the requirements for registration and accreditation are set by the New South Wales Education Standards Authority (NESA). For non-government schools and systems, the NESA requirements cover Corporate governance, Teaching standards, Student welfare, Educational programs, Boarding facilities, and Public reporting.
The scale, cumulative impact and high degree of change over time in these requirements provide a significant challenge for schools...
Commonwealth requirements are established in the Australian Education Act 2013 and the Australian Education regulations. The scale, cumulative impact and high degree of change over time in these requirements provide a significant challenge for schools, and for authorities seeking to support schools to meet these requirements efficiently whilst maintaining a focus on their prime educational purpose. Ensuring effective and efficient communication and collaboration across the NSW Catholic sector, to the benefit of schools, teachers and students, is not without its challenges.
Intent of the initiative
The intent of the IDEA Group is to improve the support provided to NSW Catholic Schools by pooling and sharing understandings and approaches to compliance and regulatory regimes faced by schools. The purposes of the group are to:
· be a body that provides comment, as appropriate, to diocesan directors, CSNSW and NESA on policy and operational matters pertaining to educational accountability
· enable networking and support for personnel who have responsibility for educational accountabilities
· discuss, compare and analyse various diocesan approaches to school improvement and regulatory requirements
· work collaboratively to improve the strategic direction of diocesan responses to regulatory outcomes.
Steps taken and challenges faced
Where once each diocese would reinterpret requirements and approaches for their group of schools, a group of officers with similar roles in different NSW dioceses began meeting informally to share issues of concern and approaches to supporting schools. These informal discussions proved productive and led to the establishment of Inter-Diocesan Educational Accountability (IDEA) in 2013. The group, which comprises representatives from each of the eleven dioceses, is intended as a support network for diocesan personnel to discuss the implications of regulatory requirements for their schools.
Dioceses with similar needs and contexts were able to collaborate closely, and jointly guide enhancements and refinements of these products to more effectively meet needs.
The establishment of the group represented a change in how key diocesan personnel interacted with one another regarding educational accountabilities. The IDEA group meets four times per year (once per term). Included in the group’s Terms of Reference is a commitment for each member to report deliberations from meetings, as relevant, to the Diocesan Director. The existence and work of this group has helped to clarify misinterpretations and misconceptions about requirements and regulations, and assist with the standardisation of approaches to accountability and support across the Catholic dioceses in New South Wales.
The IDEA group has:
· enabled the creation of a support network for diocesan officers who take carriage of school reviews; this network has fostered the development of working relationships between diocesan officers to enable them to seek clarification of regulatory matters within a non-judgemental environment
· fostered clarity of understanding and common understandings of regulatory requirements culminating in the development of diocesan specific support documents for schools
· prompted the development of documentation comparing and contrasting of diocesan approaches to school review and related issues, with a view of streamlining approaches between dioceses
· supported joint ventures between dioceses; this work has seen the development and use of common web-based solutions for compliance management and administration
· provided a reference point for CSNSW as needed.
As a plethora of online compliance systems and reporting tools emerged in a ‘market’ response to increases in regulation and reporting obligations, the group was able to share their experiences with various tools and online systems. Dioceses with similar needs and contexts were able to collaborate closely, and jointly guide enhancements and refinements of these products to more effectively meet needs. Purchase of these tools and compliance systems represents a significant investment by school systems. This collaboration-informed decision-making at the diocesan level has clearly delivered a range of benefits at the school level.
Other work has been undertaken to incorporate common elements and approaches into school reviews across a number of dioceses: building shared understandings of what non-compliance looks like, and the meaning of consistent interpretation and application of mandatory student attendance codes.
Evaluations of the initiative
No formal evaluation has yet taken place, but feedback has indicated that the work is valued by schools and diocesan staff and that it has led to a reduction of time spent on administrative tasks and in “reinventing the wheel” in schools and diocesan settings. The benefits and positive outcomes are particularly reported by officers from smaller regional Catholic dioceses.
A key feature of IDEA is the building of working relationships across dioceses to provide a platform for future work. The group has sought to broaden its expertise by inviting guest speakers to share research at forums and tapping into the expertise of current and ex principals. A risk for the ongoing continuity of the group is a potential loss of impetus if long serving members move on to other roles. This risk is partially ameliorated by the fact that Catholic Schools NSW is participating in the group and values its work.
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.