The future of Victorian Jewish schools: a community consultation to re-assess the ethical responsibility of schooling

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It is no secret that while constitutionally committed to secularism, Australian states introduce a wide range of faith-oriented schooling approaches and options. Historically, federal governments have provided much funding to non-government schools, supplemented by state and territory governments' funding as well as private income (e.g. parent fees, donations) that account for 43% of total non-government school income (Harrington, 2011). Heavily supported by public agencies, faith-based independent or Catholic schools are obligated to follow various procedures, being part of a nation-building exercise that seeks to align with global economic imperatives. Conversely, Australian education policies are increasingly influenced by market values, crafted by neoliberal efforts promoting ideas of choice, ‘buy education’ and privatisation (e.g. Finefter-Rosenbluh, 2022a; Rizvi & Lingard, 2010), presumed to be vital for social progress (Connell, 2013). Such policy initiatives and shifts are envisioned to provide a more responsive market premised on competition to encourage quality education.

In this economically contested climate, Australian faith-based schools thrive as fields of choice over secular government schools; potentially involving complex conditions not only for educators in their attempt to address quality concerns and respond to the increasing competitiveness of and diverse needs in education systems (e.g. Finefter-Rosenbluh, 2022b) but also for community members positioned as education 'customers' who may struggle to invest in the 'game' -- deliberating over and posing risks for broad equity concerns.

This large-scale project examines how philanthropists, benefactors, parents, teaching staff, educational leaders and community members perceive Victorian Jewish schools as faith-based ethical entities that provide education for all. Specifically, the study explores top down to bottom up community activism that aims to fulfil the faith-based schools’ ethical responsibility to attend to all students. The research project investigates how such activism (re)assesses and shapes the schools’ enrolment and education policies, in an effort to serve social goals of tolerance and pluralism in times of adversity. The project aims to:

  • Identify and describe stakeholders' understanding of ethical and accessible faith-based schooling
  • Contribute to the (re)shaping, implementation and enactment of policies that serve goals of social justice
  • Assist in meeting Education State targets, particularly relating to quality learning for all