An exploration of inclusivity in Edmund Rice Education Australia

Prof Doc Thesis

Hawkins, Matthew John. (2022). An exploration of inclusivity in Edmund Rice Education Australia [Prof Doc Thesis]. Australian Catholic University
AuthorsHawkins, Matthew John
TypeProf Doc Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Education

The Charter for Catholic Schools in the Edmund Rice Tradition (Charter) proposed by Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA) calls all schools to be inclusive (EREA, 2017). However, an argument exists that there is a lack of consistency in the ways leaders at the organisational and school levels of EREA understand and implement inclusivity (Tinsey, 2012). Within this contested context, this research sought to explore how inclusivity is understood, interpreted and implemented in EREA. Three research questions focused the conduct of the research:

1. What understandings of the term inclusivity exist in EREA?
2. How is the call to inclusivity being addressed in EREA mainstream schools?
3. What affordances and challenges exist when addressing the call to inclusivity in participating schools?

The study examined inclusivity in six EREA mainstream schools in relation to educationally disadvantaged students, nominated as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students with disabilities, students from refugee backgrounds and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. An interpretivist paradigm using a constructionist epistemology and the theoretical perspective of symbolic interactionism underpinned the study. The chosen methodology was case study.

Research was undertaken across two inter-related phases. Phase 1 explored the perceptions of the EREA Council, Board, Executive and leadership team, along with principals and deputy principals of all 31 EREA mainstream schools to ascertain understandings and applications of the concept of inclusivity. In the second phase of research, six EREA mainstream schools were purposively selected to develop an understanding of the themes emerging from Phase 1 data. Principals, Identity leaders, business managers, teachers, parents and a small group of senior students were invited to engage with a documentary analysis, open-ended questionnaires, focus group interviews and semi-structured interviews. Data were analysed through a constant comparative method and enabled the development of a conceptual framework as to the understanding and implementation of inclusivity in EREA.

Findings from Phase 1 indicated an inadequate perspective of inclusivity as to EREA schools being open to all; and, a disconnect in views between EREA organisational and school-based leaders. Findings from Phase 2 built upon these themes and indicated the need for greater clarity and more transparent communication regarding inclusivity within EREA.

The research generated three conclusions that contribute to new knowledge. First, the research supported the literature and confirmed the four aforementioned key groups of young people at a distinct educational disadvantage in contemporary Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students with disabilities, students from refugee backgrounds and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The research indicates that these four groups are the most prevalent in terms of educational disadvantage and can be described as the poor and marginalised in the context of contemporary Australian education. Second, the research established that any description of inclusivity that suggests that a school is or should be open to all is inadequate. Rather, a deeper contextual understanding is required, especially by leaders. The differing understandings of inclusivity, coupled with a lack of clear organisational policy has resulted in some EREA schools becoming more exclusive than inclusive. Third, the clear contrast between espoused EREA values and neo-liberal values emerged from the research.

The research also provided three contributions to quality practice regarding inclusivity in EREA schools. First, inclusive practices rely heavily upon leadership within the school, most significantly the role and person of principal. Second, exclusive practices within some schools necessitate greater critical reflection at an organisational level. The prevailing neo-liberal agenda in contemporary Australian and international education presents significant challenges for school-based leaders, hence clearer direction from the organisational level of EREA is required. Third, the importance of transparent communication between leaders and all school community members emerged as a key aspect of practice regarding inclusivity and the avoidance of perceptions as to elitism in EREA schools.

Recommendations from the research entailed: critical reflection regarding the language which expresses inclusivity is given priority; formation programs give attention the depth of understanding amongst staff, especially current and potential leaders, of inclusivity and its theological and philosophical foundations; EREA critically reflect on the issue of accountability and consider the use of individual and nuanced benchmarks for schools and principals in addressing inclusivity; EREA designs an inclusivity audit and tasks each school with completing it in order to provide feedback to EREA as the first stage in the development of a clear plan to achieve essential inclusivity goals in a defined timeframe; the recruitment processes for selection of principals, deputy principals and business managers incorporate an understanding of, and genuine commitment to, inclusivity; and, consideration be given to providing opportunities for the amplification of student voice in relation to inclusivity.

In summary, the research into inclusivity in EREA provides insights into the relevance and nature of inclusivity within a significant group of schools within the Australian education non-government school sector. Implications for the sector are generic in nature and can be considered as a platform for research in other jurisdictions and/or as a base for reflection and action.

Keywordsinclusivity; education; Edmund Rice; Edmund Rice Education Australia; Catholic; inclusion; leadership
PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research or scholarlyResearch
Page range1-276
Final version
File Access Level
Supplementary Files (Layperson Summary)
File Access Level
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online15 Jul 2022
Publication process dates
Completed05 Jul 2022
Deposited15 Jul 2022
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