The University of Melbourne
Leading Catholic schools that don't look Catholic.pdf (210.03 kB)

Leading Catholic schools that don’t look Catholic: The identity of Catholic Flexi schools in Australia and the challenges for those who lead them

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-10-23, 22:20 authored by Adam Taylor

Also published in Review of Religious Education & Theology, 3, 1–27


Catholic Flexi schools are an alternative type of school that operate within the Australian schooling system. The paper focuses on Flexis operated by Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA), the largest provider of flexible education across all education sectors in Australia. They serve young people who have been disenfranchised from mainstream schooling. By their nature, Flexi schools are different in character to mainstream Catholic schools in Australia. Both the young people and the staff of Flexis do not contain the critical mass of Catholics that continue to be evident in other Catholic schools in Australia in spite of changing demographics. This presents a challenge for Flexi schools’ identity leaders, their principals, whose Catholicity is a factor in their recruitment and for whom identity leadership is an expectation of their role. The makeup of Flexis in terms of their young people, their staff, and their principals is then considered. Thereafter and with particular reference to The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue (CCE, 2022), the Catholic identity of Flexis compared to mainstream Catholic schools in Australia is investigated. Traditional Catholic schools express their Catholic identity through an explicit religious education curriculum, overt religious symbols and iconography, Catholic rituals, and a liturgical and prayer life. The elements of Flexi Catholic identity are a humanising education; inclusivity; a positive anthropology of the human person that is hope-filled and non-judgmental; dialogue; and a practical encounter with the poor and the marginalised which has a “fragrance of the Gospel” because its practitioners “take on the ‘smell of the sheep’” (Francis, 2013, §39; 24). It is suggested that Flexi principals are crucially important and well placed to animate the Catholic identity of their schools through staff formation that honours receptive ecumenism and welcomes interfaith dialogue.