On November 8, Sydney Catholic Schools will convene a major forum to spotlight innovative strides being made in classrooms throughout its vast system.
The 'Architects of Change - Defining Educational Excellence' forum, being held on November 8 at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place in Sydney, will include performances and panel discussions, offering a forum for robust dialogue on the evolving landscape of education.
One of the initiatives being showcased is the Amadeus Music Education Program – a world first music program that provides orchestral instrument tuition to every student from Year 3 – Year 8 throughout Sydney’s Catholic school system.
“Music is an important part of life at Sydney Catholic Schools, serving as a powerful avenue for our students to express themselves as human beings,” Tony Farley, Sydney Catholic Schools’ executive director told The Educator.
“It unites our communities, cultivates joy, and stimulates the mind and the senses. Research demonstrates that learning an instrument strengthens neural pathways in the brain and can significantly improve student academic success in areas including language and mathematical development.”
Farley said this access to a musical instrument across the system’s 147 schools is improving engagement, attention, self-discipline, and promoting wellbeing for students.
“Sydney Catholic Schools is of the belief that music education should not be a privilege for just those who can afford it. Amadeus is the pathway to ensuring students have equal access, and we are seeing students flourish as a result.”
Farley calls the program “one of the biggest, most comprehensive, and ambitious investments in quality music education ever undertaken in Sydney schools.”
“The program has already seen successful launches at more than 98 Sydney Catholic Schools, and its availability will expand to all 147 schools by 2024. The sheer scale of Amadeus and the number of music teachers involved makes it truly unique,” he said.
“It will be led by an astonishing 80 school classroom music teachers and 270 specialist music tutors. Our goal is for students to develop skills that can be expressed across the curriculum, leading to achievements in reading, language, and mathematics development, as well as increased high-order thinking skills and motivation to learn.”
The metrics that matter
Kevin Carragher, director of system performance at Sydney Catholic Schools said clear targets and benchmarks are established to pursue excellence with a focus on a range of areas across learning, engagement, and enrollments.
“We unquestionably want students at every school to outperform state averages and similar institutions, with NAPLAN and HSC results not only used as a measure of performance but an indication of how well students are set up for future success,” Carragher told The Educator.
“It's vital that we also recognise VET completion rates and ATARs, which we firmly believe speak to expectations, achievements, and post-school opportunities that we make available for all students.”
Carragher said the strongest emphasis is on growth with an understanding that end-line measures such as NAPLAN and HSC, though essential, don't capture the full complexity of the work that teachers do.
“Targets, goals, and benchmarks reflect our ambition for students and further support the effective allocation of resources. Clear expectations lead to stronger support.”
“We are focused on ensuring that every teacher in our system has the benefit of expertise, collaboration, and support. This, in turn, allows us to provide every student with access to the best possible learning opportunities.”
Carragher said Sydney Catholic Schools is currently engaging experts from across its network and in universities to centrally develop scopes, programs, lesson plans, and resources that will help reduce teacher workload and allow them to focus on knowing their learners and maximising student outcomes.
“We are also introducing Teaching & Learning Coaches into our 12 networks who, along with our Network Managers, will drive precision and impact in our practice through network-based professional learning and in-school coaching,” Carragher said.
“It's an approach that gives every child in our system, regardless of which of our 147 schools they attend, access to the same excellent teaching, learning opportunities, and support.”
73,000 sports stars in waiting
Another groundbreaking initiative offered by Sydney Catholic Schools provides young people with an inclusive variety of sports to enjoy in both competitive and non-competitive settings, from inter-school events to representative and national competitions.
“We recognise that sport is for all ages and abilities, not just for the elite athlete,” Damien Kerr, Sydney Catholic Schools’ Director of School Support told The Educator. “We facilitate more than 30 sports, run inter-school competitions throughout four geographical conferences, and have an established pathway for high-achieving student athletes.”
Kerr said this massive undertaking, which happens regularly across 147 schools, is brought to life by a team of coordinators throughout the system.
“We also benefit from the support of a number of industry partners who provide an expert lens to the work that we do,” he said. “We are firm believers that sport is for all ages, and extremely proud of the opportunities we're able to provide our students, particularly to students with a disability.”
Sydney Catholic Schools is one of the only systems to administer and facilitate unified all ability sport, where schools choose teams and participate against one another in regular afternoon school sport, Kerr added.
“We also see unification at system events, such as our athletics, cross country, and swimming championships,” he said.
“Students of all abilities and ages are competing on the same day, alongside one another. It ensures that every student is given a chance to join a sport at a level that challenges them.”