Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Some Determinants of Classroom Psychosocial Environment in Australian Catholic High Schools: A Multilevel Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Some Determinants of Classroom Psychosocial Environment in Australian Catholic High Schools: A Multilevel Analysis

Article excerpt

The study of classroom environments has developed into an important field of educational research during the past 35 years. Vivid descriptions and images of schools through powerful movies (e.g., To Sir With Love) and less powerful dramatizations (e.g., Beverly Hills 90210) all attest to the centrality of the environment to the defining character of schools and classrooms. The environment research reported in this paper concerns the classroom's psychosocial dimensions--those aspects that focus on human behavior in origin or outcome (Boy & Pine, 1988). Accordingly, the concept of environment, as applied to educational settings, refers to the atmosphere, ambience, tone, or climate that pervades the particular setting. Questions like "Do boys and girls differ in their perceptions of the classroom environment?" and "Compared to Catholic coeducational schools, do Catholic single-sex schools have more positive classroom environments?" are fundamentally about classroom psychosocial environment.

The strong methodological tradition of classroom environment research has been to conceptualize environments in terms of the perceptions of the milieu inhabitants (i.e., students and teachers) with context-specific instruments assessing particular dimensions of the learning environment. This field of research is particularly strong in the United States, Australia, and the Netherlands. The present paper reports research that investigated some determinants of classroom environment in Australian Catholic high schools. Before describing the research and its results and implications, the following two sections provide background information on Australian Catholic schools and the field of classroom environment research.

Australian Catholic Schools

Australia has a very substantial system of Catholic schools. It originated in the early 1800s after the White settlement of Australia and developed through the arrival of religious orders in the late 1800s. The influence of the Irish people on Australian Catholicism and wider Australian society has been particularly strong. In 2007, there were 1,703 Catholic schools out of a total school population of 9,581. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008), 20.23% of the total Australian student population were enrolled in Catholic schools. Over 60% of private (i.e., non government) school students were in Catholic schools. It is also noteworthy that these Catholic schools receive substantial financial support directly from the Australian government. This support covers at least all staff salary costs with teachers receiving salary parity with their government school counterparts. Without this government support, the schools would close tomorrow.

The most fundamental point concerning Catholic secondary schools in Queensland is that all Catholic schools are agents of the Roman Catholic Church. It follows that they are empowered to provide an education for their students that is distinctive because of their Christ-centeredness. This is the starting philosophical point of any Catholic school and it means that Catholic schools should have an atmosphere that is consistent with a Christian view of the world. Over the past 2 to 3 decades, radical changes in the staffing composition of Australian Catholic schools have occurred with teaching religious orders replaced almost entirely by lay teachers. The issue of a Catholic school having a Catholic identity, taken for granted in the past, has assumed great importance to contemporary Catholic education.

It is reasonable to believe that Catholic schools cannot teach Catholic Christianity if the atmosphere enveloping the school is devoid of a Catholic ethos. Leavey's (1972) seminal Australian research in Catholic secondary girls' schools concluded that unless the students experience the procedures of their schools as reinforcing the content of the Christian message, then that message tends not to be accepted. …

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