ONE of the Hunter's most historic high schools could be repurposed as a university campus, under a proposal that has left some staff members feeling "blind-sided".
The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle has asked two external advisers to conduct a review into All Saints' College Maitland, which comprises the year 11 and 12 St Mary's Campus and the year seven to 10 St Peter's Campus.
The advisers - Dr Dan White and Terry O'Brien - compiled a briefing paper ahead of this week's online listening assembly sessions, designed for consultation with staff, on four matters including the long term structure of the college.
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The paper said there were four options, including creating a year seven to 12 school with about 1200 students on St Peter's Campus, with an "associated land acquisition and/or major capital works building strategy".
The paper said this "allows for the creative repurposing of the St Mary's campus (e.g. an annex of one of the Catholic universities)".
A staff member who wished to remain anonymous said this option was of "huge concern".
"We were blind-sided by that," they said. "This is something that has never been previously discussed and comes as a huge shock, given our senior students love having their own school, where they can be treated as young adults in the historic grounds of such a beautiful community.
"I'm shocked and disgusted that such a consideration is being made and was emailed on the last day of term break, without having told us first face to face."
The other options for the school's structure are maintaining the status quo but with a common timetable; moving the year 10 students to St Mary's; and moving years seven and eight to St Mary's and all other grades to St Peter's.
The staff member said the current structure worked well.
"It was a really big thing for [students] to come [to St Mary's] and start afresh and be treated like adults - and they really stepped up for that."
Diocese chief executive Sean Scanlon said the Commonwealth Government, NESA and Catholic Schools NSW formally recognised All Saints' College in 2020 as "one college with two campuses".
"The purpose of the review is to facilitate the long-term strategic planning of All Saints' College and ensure we can provide an outstanding, faith-filled learning environment in the Catholic tradition and the best possible learning progression and educational outcomes for students in years seven to 12," Mr Scanlon said.
"The diocese has no pre-conceived expectations as to what the review may bring, other than an intent to ensure the best possible learning environment for students.
"The diocesan leadership will consider any recommendations or actions arising from the review following the finalisation of the report [expected next month]. The diocese may undertake further developmental phases to support an effective implementation plan and long-term strategic vision for the college."
The staff member said they and colleagues were also concerned the reviewers had outlined their intention to recommend an end to St Mary's four-day week model and for both campuses to be on the same timetable from 2023.
Unlike other diocese schools that operate from 9am to 3.15pm, St Mary's has six one-hour periods between 8.40am and 3.55pm four days a week, leaving Wednesdays for exams, excursions, planning, one-on-one support and off-campus vocational education and training.
The reviewers said they considered issues including international research outcomes, a gradual decline in year 12 outcomes, a "shift from the original intent and practices of the program" and the length of the other school days in reaching their decision.
"We appreciate that for some members of the All Saints' community, advice with respect to this recommendation may bring with it a sense of disappointment and loss," they wrote.
"Equally however, we believe that an 'artificial' consultation on the college structures and process with the option of the 'four-day week' seemingly 'still on the table' would be inauthentic and against the true spirit of collaborative consultation."
The staff member said there had been discussions over the years about changing the model, but no formal consultation about removing it, or an opportunity to discuss how to tweak and improve it.
They said it had been a "really strong marketing ploy and differentiation", which drew students to the school.
"It's not something that's driven by staff, it's something that's really very much valued by the kids and parents," the staff member said.
"I don't think they quite grasp that, I think there's the assumption that it's just something that teachers enjoy, having the Wednesday, but they forget the other four days are quite intense days and Wednesdays were for preparing resources and meeting with students.
"It was something that was valued by all types of students, the highly academic students liked they could have a block of time to sit there at home or school and work on an assignment, whereas the other students who might not be as academically strong were able to go and do different workplace courses... kids can often be very shy and are reluctant in a classroom to put their hand up and say they need help, so the Wednesday works really well."
They said the mood at this week's listening assemblies was one of "resignation".
"Staff were reluctant to put forward alternative views, given it's now clear things are happening according to an agenda from above."
Mr Scanlon said the diocese asked reviewers to "consult far and wide" and that in addition to the listening assemblies, reviewers had also gathered staff feedback through "faculty meetings, small group and individual forums".
He said staff and school community members including students were invited to make individual appointments.
The two campuses - plus St Joseph's College at Lochinvar - had been three separately run schools under the All Saints' College banner up until 2018.
St Peter's and St Joseph's were feeder schools for St Mary's.
The diocese consolidated the St Mary's and St Peter's campuses that year under a new unified leadership model and started to treat it as one school, the largest in the diocese.
St Joseph's has broken away and expanded to year 12.
This followed the diocese's Study into the Provision of Secondary Education, which recommended a "strengthened relationship" between the two campuses "to provide a quality alignment of educational experience across Years 7-12".
"While the two schools remain autonomous, their capacity to provide for a continuum of excellence across the stages is required," the recommendation said, adding the "renewed relationship" would be evident in areas including leadership collaboration.
The staff member said there had been no mention of teaching between campuses, but about five of St Mary's roughly 45 teachers were now leading classes at St Peter's and about 10 of St Peter's roughly 80 teachers were leading classes at St Mary's.
They said because of reasons like this and the review, it appeared the diocese was not keeping the schools autonomous, but carrying out a "full merger".
College principal Marc Romano last month asked staff who taught only at St Mary's and would see a reduction in workload next year due to a "reduction of student numbers" to advise if they would be willing to teach another subject, or "cross college".
Mr Scanlon said the 2018 opening of St Bede's Catholic College at Chisholm and the expansion of St Joseph's had reduced demand for St Mary's.
He said staff were asked to participate in cross college teaching if they had the "appropriate qualifications and experience to teach a particular subject" and the existing arrangements were subject to review.
"Schools and learning change and the learning environment must adapt to those changes," he said.
"There has never been a commitment that there would be autonomous campuses and the need to ensure the best learning environment for students must be the main objective."
The reviewers' summary of the first listening assembly, in August, identified several "key opportunities for growth".
These included low staff morale, rebuilding trust between the executive and staff, attention to student bullying and intimidation, "greater respect towards females and a deeper understanding of the social development of boys" and a decline in the college's reputation.
Mr Scanlon said the review and people who contribute were focused on "supporting and enhancing learning outcomes and opportunities for students in a modern context".
"For this to occur in a meaningful and authentic way and for renewal initiatives to be sustainable, this period of reflection must provide a genuine understanding of the current teaching and learning environment," he said, adding "the feedback received thus far provides a constructive springboard of ideas from which the diocese can formulate a range of initiatives".
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