Celebrating Catholic Schools

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By James Bentley, principal of St Peter’s College, Auckland

There are many reasons families look for a Catholic secondary school education. A faith-based, traditional education, with an emphasis on pastoral care and community, is attractive to many. Most Catholic secondary schools have waiting lists and are unable to keep up with demand.

James Bentley

Since the early days of integration, with the odd exception, many of our schools faced falling rolls, and were not performing to acceptable academic standards. Many Catholic families stayed loyal to their local Catholic schools, but the reality was that far more looked to the state or private system for the education of their children.

The changes over the last 25 years have been vast. From Pompallier in the north to Verdon in the south, our Catholic network of schools are popular because they provide outstanding education outcomes for their students. In some regions, our Catholic schools regularly academically outperform their nearby state and private school colleagues.

Catholic schools have always been highly competitive on the sporting stage, and in recent years Catholic schools have been crowned national champions in Girls Hockey, Girls Football, Boys Waterpolo, Boys Rugby and Boys Football. In 2018, Rosmini College won the national boys basketball title after defeating St Patrick’s College, Wellington, in the final. Catholic schools are a force to be reckoned with in sport.

Kapahaka, music, theatre, art and drama all thrive across our schools, as our students’ diverse interests are catered for.

Every Catholic school is unique, each flourishing under its own charism, and identity.

The reasons for the success of our schools vary from school to school, and from region to region, but we all have several things in common:

A Christ-centred faith; Our faith-centred education teaches our students, through the Gospel values, that they are not the centre of the world. We aim to make our students outward-focused, and aware of the needs of others. This is central to our mission as schools.

Academic excellence; With outstanding teachers and clear expectations, students in our Catholic schools have high academic ambitions. Religious studies as an NCEA (and now scholarship) subject also provides our senior students with a subject, which is not only rigorous, but is something they are good at, due to the foundational knowledge they have gained in their time in our schools.

All children matter; Our schools cater for all students, regardless of their abilities and difference. We strive to ensure every child has the opportunity to thrive and achieve their goals, whatever they may be.

Strong pastoral systems; All schools care about their students and do their utmost to support them. The extra dimension of Catholic schools is the ability to use our faith to foster inclusiveness, love and support. We also have the ability to call on our Church in times of need.

Community; At our college, we are fond of the saying that “we not only enrol the boy, but we enrol the family”. All our schools have similar mantras, and have supportive and involved communities that work alongside the school in taking responsibility for their child’s education.

Strong Governance; Committed proprietors have enabled our schools to flourish. Matched with dedicated and motivated boards of trustees, our schools have been able to offer outstanding outcomes for our students.

Leadership; Our Catholic schools are blessed with strong leadership. Over time, this institutional knowledge and experience has been passed on to the next generation of principals. Personally, I was blessed to learn from Mr Kieran Fouhy (St Peter’s College Auckland 1989-2016, St gPaul’s College — current). His leadership has also influenced the current principals of Marist College, Sacred Heart College, Auckland, St Thomas of Canterbury, St Bernard’s College and De La Salle College.

This leadership has, over the past decade and a half, seen experienced Catholic principals Paul Ferris (ex-Kavanagh College), Patrick Walsh (John Paul College) and Sandy Pasley (Baradene College) recognised by their secondary peers with their respective elections to the position of president of the Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand.

Our success in being able to offer an outstanding all-round education to our boys and girls, whilst also developing their relationship with Christ, is something special.

Humility prevents my colleagues from celebrating our sector’s success too openly, therefore I have taken it on myself to do so, because this is something of which we can all be extremely proud.

James Bentley is headmaster of St Peter’s College, Epsom, Auckland.

NZ Catholic contributor

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