The Catholic Education system in Australia

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The Catholic Education Office, Sydney (CEO) administers 167 Catholic primary, secondary and combined schools, serving 80,000 students and more than 8800 staff in the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney (Appendix 1). The CEO belongs to the non-profit education services industry. This includes bodies such as the NSW Department of Education, The NSW Association of Independent Schools, and CEOs in other regions. The CEO is governed by the Sydney Archdiocesan Catholic Schools (SACS) Board, which sets major policy decisions, approves budgets, and holds the CEO accountable for the management of the school system.

The CEO has an explicit vision: "As partners in Catholic education, we commit ourselves to developing authentic Catholic schools which: are founded on the person of Jesus Christ and enlivened by Gospel values; highlight the relevance of our faith to life and contemporary culture; are embedded within the community of believers and share in the evangelising mission of the Church; are committed to the development of the whole person". To fulfil this vision, the CEO provides leadership and service to Catholic schools in the Archdiocese, thereby enhancing the quality of the education of the students enrolled in Catholic schools (SACS 2006).

Traditionally, the CEO has adopted a societal orientation towards marketing. This is demonstrated by strategic intent statements (CEO 2005) which focus on Catholic life and religious education, students and their learning, pedagogy, and effective stakeholder communication. Since 1990, there has been a shift towards product orientation (CEO 2008a). That is, a focus on organisational excellence through the provision of high quality products and services to its stakeholders. For example, at the school level, the School Review and Improvement Framework (2005) describes the principles, processes, and indicators of highly effective Catholic schools. Informed by an External Review Report (CEO 2004), the Australian Business Excellence Framework (2004), and McKinsey & Company's (2007) World's Best-Performing School Systems report, the SRI framework is implemented across all CEO schools. At the individual level, the outcomes of the SRI processes inform the Personal Performance Planning and Review (PPPR) process for teachers and Contract Renewal Process for school leaders in all CEO schools.

The products and services the CEO offers schools and communities focus on religious education and evangelisation, administration (financial services, HR, facilities, funding), policy development and compliance, curriculum support, communications & marketing, and information & communication technology (ICT).

Mark Rix, Head of Communications, sees the CEO brand as a significant factor in the effectiveness of their marketing and communications. "The CEO brand is well recognised and respected. Polls show a 97% positive response to the CEO brand"1.

5Cs Analysis. Company. The CEO's summarised mission statement is, "As partners in Catholic education, we commit ourselves to our students by celebrating being catholic in Australia, ensuring quality teaching and learning, and making a difference in our world". Its key strengths are student welfare, clear organisational values, schooling affordability, and strong social and community conscience (SAI Global 2004). Weaknesses include constraints on fees, economically disadvantaged feeder LGAs2, and negative perceptions of the Catholic Church. There are opportunities in capital works and ICT funding, vocational education, eLearning, national curriculum initiatives, and population growth in the Liverpool and Fairfield LGAs (CEO 2007a). Emerging threats include low-fee independent schools and the decreasing school-age population in the Archdiocese (CEO 2009).

Customers. At one level, the CEO's customers are the schools they serve, including current parents, students, school leaders, and teaching staff. More broadly, customers include local parish priests, the parents, students and staff of non-Catholic 'feeder' schools, charities, alumni, and local businesses and community groups (CEO 2008b). Typically, choosing a school is a high-involvement extensive problem-solving buying process for both parents and students. Myers (2003) identifies psychological factors such as Catholic beliefs, perceptions of education quality and strong discipline as key drivers for parents. Motivation factors such as belongingness (friends at new school) are key drivers for students (CEO 2008c).

Collaborators. The CEO positions itself as a "partner in Catholic education". Upstream collaborators include the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, the Catholic Education Commission NSW3, universities, teacher training institutions, local Catholic parishes, and technology providers. Downstream collaborators include parent and community groups, local businesses, and neighbouring CEOs.

Competitors. In some sense, all non-CEO schools in Sydney provide substitute products (Porter 1980). Local Government primary schools are both a key competitor (CEO 2008c) and a significant "feeder" to CEO secondary schools. New entrants to the market include home schooling, private tuition colleges, and vocational education providers. The power of suppliers (Porter 1980), such as Teacher unions, also contributes to the competitive environment.

Context. Legislative, socio-cultural, economic and technology factors are key influencers on the CEO. Significant issues facing the CEO include compliance requirements, the introduction of a national curriculum, and changes in the school-age population. The impact of an economic downturn, particularly unemployment, on poorer families, the challenge of attracting, developing and retaining high-quality teachers (CEO 2007b), and the government provision of new mobile technologies into schools all present considerable challenges.

Collecting Information. The CEO captures internal organisation information, gathers market intelligence and performs market research. Currently, it uses disparate information systems to record, analyse, and act on this information.

Compliance requirements compel the CEO to be efficient at capturing internal operational information concerning enrolment data, student achievement, staff professional development, and performance indicators of school effectiveness. It also has a culture of external performance review, with three major reviews since 1994 providing substantive insights for strategic planning (CEO 2008d).

Collecting market intelligence is a core function with dedicated head count. Tasks include collecting and processing secondary data from regulatory authorities (e.g. NSW Board of Studies), data analysis, parent/community liaison, and universities liaison. These activities allow the CEO to monitor and understand the local and regional education context. For example, curriculum project officers participate in National Curriculum development teams, providing the CEO with insights into, and influence over, the development of Australia's new National School Curriculum.

The CEO regularly conducts market research to answer specific questions and develop strategies, collaborating with Universities, education authorities, and external commercial agencies to collect primary data. For example, in 2001 the CEO engaged Newspoll to survey perceptions of Catholic Education in the general community (Newspoll 2001). The CEO also recently commissioned Dr Alan Laughlin to undertake a Feasibility Study into the establishment of a new Catholic Vocational College in Burwood (CEO 2008e).

Recent Parent Satisfaction market research (CEO 2008c) adhered closely to the 5-step market research process (MM 2010a). 1) The research problem and objectives were clearly defined. That is, why a significant number of Catholic families are delaying enrolling their children in a Catholic school until Year 7, and the initial perceptions of parents who transferred their children, for the first time, to a Catholic secondary school in Year 7. The first objective investigates the intangible and variable attributes of buyer behaviour common to services organisations. The second objective gauges the level of 'cognitive dissonance' (Festinger 1957) among parents following their purchase decision. 2) The research plan was developed in consultation with relevant CEO staff, including an iterative process of feedback and redesign. 3) The plan was implemented by collecting quantitative data from a non-probability convenience sample of 1425 Year 7 parents. The survey instrument consisted of Likert Scale and open-ended unstructured questions. Qualitative data was also collected through individual depth interviews with selected school principles. The combined primary data was studied using 3-factor variance analysis. 4) Results were interpreted in collaboration with the executive team and communicated via the CEO's web site and scheduled Principals' forums. 5) The report recommends further research into fee relief for poorer families.

Segmenting, targeting and positioning. The CEO currently adopts a differentiated strategy to communicate to the market. The five key customer segments are parents, students, school leaders, teachers, and community stakeholders, and there is evidence of differentiation in the marketing mix used to communicate with each segment. The full mission statement (CEO 2010a) reflects this differentiation by communicating value propositions to each segment in a broad fashion: "Celebrating Being Catholic" speaks to parents wanting to instil Catholic values and traditions in their children, "Ensuring quality teaching & learning" addresses school leaders & teachers who strive to promote their schools as places of challenge, achievement and excellence, and "Making a difference in our world" considers students' vision for their future and the benefits to community stakeholders.

Geographic segmentation plays a role in the CEO's marketing activities. The Archdiocese is divided into 3 regions: Eastern, Southern, and Inner Western. Further segmentation can be applied at the school level, with each school serving a fairly well defined local area. Importantly, each regional office has autonomy regarding the communications they disseminate to schools, parents, students and staff in their region. According to Mark Rix, this creates challenges with ensuring consistent positioning and an integrated marketing communications approach across the CEO.

Demographically, the five main customer segments can be further segmented. For example, within the Parents segment there are further heterogenous groups (Fig. 1).

All Parents of students in CEO Schools

Parents of students in Systemic Schools

(low fee, 147 schools)

Parents of students in Congregational Schools (high fee, 20 schools)







Secondary School


(K-12) School

Figure 1. Segmentation of 'Parents of Students in CEO Schools' market

The CEO has limited administrative control over the 20 high-fee Congregational Schools. The characteristics of these parents differ from those of systemic schools, such as higher levels of education, greater disposable income, and buyer loyalty through alumni relationships (CEO 2007c). Esteem needs (Maslow 1954) and socio-cultural factors such as family affect their buying behaviour (Myers 2003).

Parents of students in the 147 Systemic schools are a focus target market for the CEO. This is further segmented into Primary and Secondary school parents, as the needs and wants vary between these two groups. Parents choosing a primary school regard quality schooling and the happiness of their child as the two most important factors in their buying decision (CEO 2008c). When choosing a secondary school, factors such as strong discipline, climate and tone, safety and welfare and Catholic values rate very highly (CEO 2008c).

The positioning of the CEO's services to these parent target markets relies heavily on the individual CEO schools. While the CEO provides advise to schools on an integrated communications strategy and assistance with the implementation of that strategy, the drive and initiative (or lack of it) of the school leadership is a key success factor (Myers 2003). Within the framework of the CEO's mission statement, Schools position their unique value propositions to parents of the various feeder schools and local areas. At this school level, there is usually further segmenting according to local demographics, such as families with non-english speaking backgrounds. Catholic schools also differentiate themselves by positioning attributes such as subject range, teacher quality, pastoral care programs, and student diversity across 'buying factor' dimensions such as curriculum, academic, social, and cultural factors (Myers 2003).

Evaluating the CEO's marketing Strategy & Focus. Considering the CEO's orientation to marketing, there are three comments to make. First, the current social orientation and product orientation make sense given the leading buying factors for parents are quality of education, discipline and Catholic values (Newspoll 2001, CEO 2008c). This orientation also fits well with a relationship marketing strategy, that is, focusing on existing customers to establish long term relationships rather than one-off transactions, and realising that the student can become a life-long customer, adviser, influencer, and donor (Myers 2003). Moreover, Kotler (1996) points out that the nurturing of customers can have important benefits in word-of-mouth promotion.

Second, individual schools may benefit from adopting a marketing orientation. Drysdale (2001) describes a four-frame Market Centred Leadership model to help school Principals understand the market. The frames are 1) Marketing as philosophy and orientation; 2) Marketing as a function of the organisation; 3) Marketing as strategy; 4) Developing relationships with the market. His study of schools in Victoria demonstrated a link between improved school performance and the effective use of all four frames. The implications for the CEO are twofold: the pre-eminent role Principals play in the effectiveness (or otherwise) of marketing in their schools; Frameworks like this can help the CEO assist school leaders develop and implement marketing strategies for their schools.

Thirdly, Rix says that, "Making schools more critically aware of the impact of what they do and say in their environment is a big issue for us". A stronger marketing orientation captured in the CEO's strategic framework and integrated into policy would assist schools in managing their communications with the wider community.

Collecting information to monitor and analyse the 5Cs presents both challenges and opportunities in three areas: information systems, online technologies, and qualitative market research.

The CEO's information systems are not fully integrated. Mulitple "data silos" have evolved in an ad hoc fashion over time - a common problem in the education sector. The CEO is working towards a "360-degree" information system to integrate these disparate systems. However, the challenge of getting a full "360-degree" picture of individual schools has not been, and possibly never will be fully met. Individual Catholic schools have levels of autonomy with staffing, budgeting, curriculum, pedagogy, and communication that prevent the complete collection and integration of internal information (CEO 2010b).

Rix observes that the CEO is yet to realise the potential of online technologies to help collect data. "This is an emerging area for us, and a key focus for our web-site redesign. Our new web site will be functional, contemporary and interactive. It will have 'immediacy' and link into feedback channels like twitter, nings and wikis at the front end, and into our new Sharepoint 360 system at the back end." More recently, the CEO has conducted quantitative market research via online surveys of teachers concerning the introduction of a new eLearning Framework.

In late 2009, the CEO's Executive Director, Dr Dan White, seized the opportunity for qualitative market research by conducting twelve 'Listening Assemblies' across the Archdiocese (About Catholic Schools 2009). Over 1200 parents, school leaders, teachers and students shared their views on the future of Catholic education directly with Dr White in a "grassroots" forum. This primary data will be analysed, interpreted and communicated to stakeholders through CEO publications in 2010.

To better inform the CEO's marketing strategies, actionable outcomes need to come from market research such as the 'Listening Assemblies' described above. The CEO does have a sound track record of implementing the results of market research to change organisational behaviour and inform its marketing strategies. This is evidenced by the successful implementation of the "Towards 2010 Strategic Leadership and Management Plan" (CEO 2005) which was a direct result of an External Review Report (2004) and ABEA Feedback Report (SAI Global 2004).

Regarding the use of convenience sampling in recent market research (CEO 2008c), marketing analysis can be improved by considering alternative sampling techniques such as random samples to provide more reliable data.

The frequency of the CEO's market analysis should also be reviewed. According to Rix, comprehensive research into customer attitudes, perceptions and buying behaviour occurs each strategic cycle (roughly every 5 years). However, the last survey on perceptions of the CEO brand was conducted in 2001 (Newspoll 2001). To ensure the CEO is using timely and relevant market research data, the improved use of online tools may allow the CEO to increase the frequency of its market research.

Notwithstanding the infrequency of some market research, there is evidence that the CEO brand remains well regarded. The CEO reviews its media coverage annually, analysing the ratio of positive to negative stories, the frequency, location and financial value of media coverage, and which schools receive most coverage. 2009 analysis indicates strong positive responses for brand recognition, essence, and core values. Rix also points to non-empirical evidence as an indicator of brand strength. For example, the media often contacts the CEO as an opinion leader and subject matter expert in education, as was the case with the launch of the MySchool website4.

Is the CEO targeting the right customers? In a geographic and demographic sense, the CEO is following the population. CEO School closures in older-established areas with school-age population decline (e.g. Ryde, Bondi) have been countered by new CEO schools in population growth areas of south-west Sydney (CEO 2007a).

At the school level, Myers (2003) suggests that CEO schools should adopt a relationship marketing strategy to create value with individual customers, thereby building enduring relationships. At the systemic level, market research (CEO 2008c) indicates the CEO can improve its STP strategy by adopting a marketing orientation, and by helping secondary schools promote their achievements and unique value propositions, particularly to feeder primary schools. This promotion should be targeted at all parents in the primary schools, not just those with children in Year 6.

Finally, one customer segment that the CEO has traditionally 'missed' is the vocational education market. In establishing the Southern Cross Catholic Vocational College (SCCVC) in Burwood, the CEO is meeting the learning needs of students seeking trade and skills training - a new target market in Catholic education. In the past, the take-up of School Based Apprenticeships and Traineeships within CEO schools has been limited due mainly to school organisational and timetabling constraints. The SCCVC gives the CEO a fundamentally new way of providing a Catholic vocational education for the benefit of students and their parents, and opens a new target market of parents, students, local businesses and community groups.


1. Mark Rix, Head of Communications, Catholic Education Office, Sydney. Interview, 7/4/2010.

2. Local Government Areas.

3. The Catholic Education Commission NSW is responsible for funding contract management, advocacy and representation of Catholic education at a state level.



About Catholic Schools, 2009, 'From the Director, Dr Dan White, Executive Director of Schools', December 2009, Vol. 33, no. 4, p.2.

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CEO 2005, 'Towards 2010, Strategic Leadership and Management Plan', Catholic Education Office, Sydney, pg. 7.

CEO 2007a, Bulletin 56b. 'Following the Population. Provision of Places in Sydney Catholic Schools, 1976-2006'. Catholic Education Office, Sydney, pg. 1.

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Myers, T. 2003, Marketing for better schools, Catholic Education Office, Sydney.

Newspoll, 2001. Survey commissioned by the Catholic Education Office, Sydney, May 2001. Newspoll surveyed approximately 1100 people over 2 weekends in May 2001. According to Newspoll , this sample represents about 5 million people and is accurate to within a margin of 3 percent.

Porter, M. E. 1980, Competitive Strategy, New York, Free Press.

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'School Review and Improvement Framework', 2005. Catholic Education Office, Sydney, pp 22 - 23.

Signed 26/4/2010: