(Investigator Magazine 186, 2019 May)


Mount Carmel College (MCC) in Rosewater, Adelaide, is one of 1700 Catholic schools in Australia which educate almost 20% of Australia's students.

Type School
Students 2018
Per cent
Government 2,558,169 65.7
Catholic 765,735 19.7
Independent 569,930 14.6

3,893,834 100
(From: Australian Bureau of Statistics website)

The "College" is a secondary school with approximately 550 students and 60 staff, where students receive a Catholic education from Years 7-12.

The annual "Open Day" on March 13, with displays of text books, course-outlines and student assignments, monitored by teachers ready to converse, provided opportunity to investigate Catholic education.


The Queensland Education Act (1860) and Victoria Education Act (1872) were precursors to free secular education Australia-wide and the abolishing of State aid to church schools by the Public Instruction Act (1880).  

The Catholic Church organized a separate education system staffed by nuns, priests and brothers of religious orders. These included the Sisters of St Joseph or Josephites (co-founded by Mary MacKillop in South Australia in 1866), and the "Marist Brothers" who came from France in 1872.

The Marist Brothers is a global institute, founded in France in 1817, to build schools and teach young people, particularly the underprivileged, to become "Good Christians and Good people". "Marist" refers to Mary, Jesus' mother, and her example of humility. Marist Brothers now number 3500 in 79 countries (in Australia 300) working with 40,000 lay Marists in school settings, religious retreats, orphanages and missions.

Mary MacKillop (1842-1909) travelled widely and founded schools to educate underprivileged children. In 1910 about 5000 "sisters" from all orders were teaching in Catholic schools.

In 1868 Josephites established co-educational schools in Port Adelaide and Alberton.

Marist Brothers established "Mount Carmel Boys School", on the MCC site, in 1927. This was closed in 1966 and the girls from nearby "Mount Carmel Girls Secondary School" relocated there. The School became co-educational in 1983.

The MCC motto is "Caritas et Dignitas" (Love and Dignity). These values: "reflect our heritage as a Catholic School in the Josephite tradition..."  (2018 Parent Handbook, p. 4)

The Rosewater Trade Training Centre situated behind the College was opened in 2014 and is funded by the Government's "Trade Training Centres in Schools" program.


Visitors during Open Day could walk around and enter various rooms to find out about the curriculum and read student assignments on display.


Religion is a compulsory subject at MCC until Year 11.  

Supervising this room was Marianne Shaw — teacher, Assistant Principal, and coordinator of Religious Education.

Items on display from younger students included sample prayers, their impressions about God, comparisons of Christianity with Buddhism, and a table displaying assignments on the topic of "Kindness".

Some of the write-ups about God pointed out that God can't be seen or described (except for his qualities). Several mentioned the Trinity, and one pointed out that God protects people so that they don't get hurt.

Mrs Shaw said that Religious Education includes study of other major religions but mainly provides students with deeper insight into the Catholic faith. Asked whether students from other religions and atheists could enroll she said yes.

On this point the Catholic Education Diocese of Cairns website says:

Historically, Catholic schools existed predominantly to educate children from Catholic families. In recent years though, Church documents including 'The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium' (1998) have advocated a more inclusive approach to Catholic education, and specifically, a more welcoming attitude toward those with special educational needs, those who are socio-economically disadvantaged, from Indigenous or multicultural backgrounds and those who have faiths other than Catholic.

This growing ecumenical and inclusive outlook has prompted Catholic schools to be more open in their enrolment policies and practices…

MCC activities include daily prayer, Catholic liturgies and masses, and: "Participation ... is required". This would pose interesting dilemmas for an atheist or a Jehovah's Witness (whose religion forbids joint worship with other faiths).

Social Studies

Student-work here on display included a project on World War I which explained why Australians volunteered to fight overseas (some anticipated a free holiday), and listed the causes of the War, and outlined some military campaigns that involved Australian troops.  

Forty years ago most assignments of students, even at University, were hand-written. But now, as seen at MCC, students' essays and assignments, including by the youngest students, are often word-processed and printed with a printer.


Next on my self-directed tour was an auditorium with a stage where students rehearse and put on plays and music performances.

One of the learning categories at the College is "The Arts" which includes Art, Dance, Drama and Music including lessons on Drums, Guitar, Piano, Trumpet, Trombone or Saxophone.  
An ancient looking "Honours Roll" on the far side engraved with names caught my attention. The name "Shaw" in the right-hand column reminded of Marianne Shaw — perhaps a relative of her husband?

A student offered to answer questions and a small crowd seemed to be getting ready to rehearse something, but it was time to move on.


Here mathematics textbooks were on display. The College uses Haese Mathematics: Mathematics for Australia which are designed and written for the Australian Curriculum up to Year 12. The company is a family owned, Australian, specialist publisher.

A schedule for mathematics classes displayed on the wall revealed that students study probability and statistics in Year 8. When my generation went to school, probability/statistics began in Year 12!

Special Needs

The Mary MacKillop Special Education Unit was added to the College in 1992. Here fulltime students with learning needs including mild intellectual disability and autism get extra assistance, but also join in the social life of the College.

They follow an Individual Education Plan, study "Modified" subjects, learn the range of skills that other students learn, and can potentially reach Year 12 and obtain their South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE).

The Library

As a quick, rough estimate the Library has about 5000 academic books, covering the range of subjects taught in the College, except part of one shelf labeled "Philosophy" which is a University subject. Another area of books by the windows appeared to be fiction.


After a quick look at the gymnasium, the school grounds, and the Psychology room came the Science room.

Here too textbooks were on display including books on biology and chemistry. The teacher here on duty was, like the others, eager to engage and explain things. To the question whether there's any conflict between biology and religion she said there's no conflict. Biology, she explained, is science but religion is belief and does not involve science.

Time was lacking to elicit more detail. Websites and magazines, however, exist that feature debates on religious topics such as Investigator Magazine which has published scores of debates on Bible topics. In the majority of such debates the proponents cite scientific textbooks and journals. This suggests that the two domains, science and religion, overlap whenever the accuracy of religious claims is examined.


Like other high schools MCC has taught Years 8 to 12, but from 2019 teaches also Year 7.

School uniform must be worn at school and other official school functions. There are strict rules regarding makeup, tattoos, piercings, hair-style, jewelry, grooming, and dress-length (= knee-length) — the last apparently not strictly enforced.  Due to the required level of conformity, one MCC student, on a website for rating one's school, compared the students to "clones".

A diary (for recording homework, school-parent contact, etc) is also compulsory. Students carry Student Identification Cards and have lockers at school with combination locks.

The school has computer rooms but home access to Internet and digital technologies is necessary.

There's a bus stop near the main entrance and a train-station a 6-minute walk away. Many students live locally and walk home; others get picked up by car.

Attendance is 8.25 am to 3.00 pm during which students attend seven 40-minute lessons. Years 10 to 12 students have the option of an additional hour after school twice weekly with individual attention by the supervising teacher. On two other days library access is also extended an hour.

The learning areas or categories are:

•    Religion;
•    The Arts (Art, Dance, Drama and Music);
•    Business, Enterprise, and Technology;
•    Cross-disciplinary Studies;
•    English;
•    Health and Physical Education;
•    Humanities and Social Sciences (Geography, History, Business & Commerce);
•    Languages;
•    Mathematics;
•    Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Psychology).

At the Trade Training Centre Years 10 to 12 students can get Vocational Education (which counts toward SACE requirements) in Metal Engineering and Manufacturing, Construction/Building trades, and Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy.
Additional learning activities include:

•    Work Awareness days to practice job interviews and otherwise prepare for transition to employment;
•    Health and Safety training;
•    Activity outings;
•    Excursions;
•    Religious Retreats;
•    Annual Camp;
•    Children’s University Australia (run by  Adelaide University);
•    Tertiary Studies and Careers Expo at the Adelaide Convention Centre;
•    Road Safety and Road Awareness programs;
•    Careers Evening.

The recommended daily homework hours increase as students advance:

Year Hours per evening
Hours on Weekend
1 1/4
2 1/2

School holidays can be busy too with work placements, work experience, and rehearsing for drama and music.

School-attendance, homework and other official activities together occupy senior students over 55 hours per week. Putting in the hours correlates with success — the College online magazine, News & the Mount, commends students on their 2018 SACE results: "More than 99% of all grades awarded were C- or higher." (Edition 1, 1919)
The College also schedules social activities such as family evenings, a Sports Day, and a Senior Formal for Years 11-12, and a Year 12 Graduation Dinner.


A Student Leadership Team is elected each year from Year 12 to represent students in school decision-making. Student leaders are also elected from Years 8-11 to liaise with the Leadership Team on school matters.

Also elected are "House Captains" to represent four House Groups to which students are allocated and which compete in sports and other activities to win the House Shield. Sports offered include Athletics, Baseball, Basketball, Cricket, Football, Netball, Soccer, Tennis and Volleyball.

Student wellbeing is promoted by:

•    Qualified counselors;
•    Coordinators;
•    A first aid room;
•    College ambulance cover;
•    Information about and referrals to external support services;
•    Websites on cyber-safety recommended to parents;
•    A College vaccination program (including the Australian-made Cervical Cancer Vaccine); and
•    A mentoring program whereby reliable senior students serve as "Big Sisters and Big Brothers" to new students.

Based on the "Love and Dignity" motto, and Jesus' call to "love your neighbour" (Luke 10:25–28) the College has policies against violence, bullying, sexual harassment, and illicit or unauthorized use of drugs and medication. The Curriculum includes Life Skills classes and workshops that provide information about drugs, alcohol, safe partying, mental health, stress management, etc.

The MCC Canteen menu includes various salads, yogurts, "veggie" and fish burgers, and other healthy-seeming choices, very different to what Penberthy (2019) remembers of the "tuck shop" at his school in the 1970s — besides pies and pasties "an assortment of sweet buns and cakes, all of them covered in icing or filled with cream." 

Part-time work outside of school times is encouraged, but no more than ten hours weekly to minimize detrimental impact on studies. Many of the younger workers at the local Foodland supermarket are MCC students. They usually start at Foodland when in Year 10 or 11 and some have stayed six or seven years until completing university studies.


Government aid to church-run schools stopped in 1880.  Around 1960 shortages of priests and nuns led to Catholic education under lay leadership expanding which required increased school fees. The threat of government schools being flooded beyond coping capacity with Catholic students led to the reintroduction of state aid to non-government schools.

The Diocese of Cairns website says the following, which also appears true of MCC: 

For those who can’t afford to pay school fees, discounts and concessions are available so that no child is denied a Catholic education based on their family’s financial situation...

Because of their outreaching focus and preferential option for the poor and disadvantaged, Catholic schools seek to keep fees as low as possible... Fees are therefore significantly less than private and independent schools...

Recently the Australian Government announced its "Quality Schools Package" under which schools get record funding increases, $17 billion in 2017 to $31 billion in 2029, but need to introduce reforms that improve students' educational outcomes. The projection for Catholic schools is from $6.3 billion to $10 billion.


State schools Australia-wide number approximately 6700, Catholic schools 1700 and Independent schools 1100.

Year 12 students of all these schools sit for the government-endorsed certificate recognized by Australian universities and vocational training centers. Catholic schools such as Mount Carmel College are free to teach religion but must also adhere to all requirements of the secular education system.


O'Farrell, P. 1968 The Catholic Church in Australia, Nelson
Penberthy, D. Sunday Mail, April 7, 2019, p. 71 Handbook_2018 Australia.htm                                          

Other articles in #186: