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Groundbreaking Research on Australian Christian Schools Released

Cardus Education Survey finds Australian schools follow North American pattern in student development.


August 26, 2020 

Pioneering North American education research is now proving its worth in Australia. The newly published report Australian Schools and the Common Good uses the Cardus Education Survey (CES) to measure the contribution of Australian secondary school graduates to the “common good” of society, rather than just the academic success of the individual. This is the first time the CES has taken place outside North America, following three American and three Canadian studies since 2009.

The Cardus Education Survey Australia Project, undertaken by a consortium of six Australian Christian school associations, surveyed a nationally representative sample of almost 5,000 millennials aged 25-39 who graduated from an Australian high school between 1998 and 2011. Researchers Dr. Albert Cheng, a Cardus senior fellow and assistant professor at the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, and Dr. Darren Iselin, Director of Research & Innovation at Christian Schools Australia, analysed the influence of public, Catholic, independent, and Christian (non-Catholic) schooling sectors in Australia on the academic, vocational, social, and civic development of their graduates.

Major survey findings:

  • A majority of graduates from all four sectors agreed that their schools emphasized academic excellence, leadership, interaction with society and culture, and character development. Christian (80%) and Catholic (87%) school graduates were more likely to report an emphasis on religious values compared to public (21%) and independent (65%) school graduates. Christian school graduates were also most likely to feel their school prepared them to find a sense of meaning and purpose in life (74%).
  • Catholic school graduates had the highest annual household incomes, while independent school graduates completed the highest levels of post-secondary school qualifications. Across all sectors, graduates from urban areas were more likely to complete bachelor’s degrees, be employed, and earn more compared to those living in rural areas – though these gaps were less pronounced among public school graduates.
  • Three out of every five graduates from all school sectors donated money to charity. Volunteering was less common, practiced by one third of graduates, but independent (40%) and Christian school graduates (48%) were more likely to volunteer in a variety of organisations such as those that care for the poor or environment.

“A decade’s worth of Cardus research in the U.S. and Canada has shown that schools have a vital role to play, alongside families and community, in building character, leadership, and the qualities in students that see them hopefully contribute to the overall common good of society,” says Dr. Cheng. “Now we’re seeing similar findings in this groundbreaking research in Australia. We hope our research will stimulate meaningful conversation about the purpose of education in North America, Australia, and globally.”

The 2020 Australian findings follow a pattern similar to previous North American findings:

United States 2018 Canada (Ontario) 2018
Young adults from religious and non-religious independent schools have a much more favourable assessment of school life than do public school graduates. They also feel better prepared for university or the job market. Catholic and Protestant school graduates are more likely to favour a job that fulfills their religious calling. Religious and non-religious independent school graduates are more likely than public school graduates to report that their school prepared them for their job, university, relationships, and spiritual life. Independent Catholic and Protestant school graduates are most likely to seek a job that fulfills a religious calling.
Non-religious independent graduates have the highest annual household incomes, followed by Catholic graduates. Non-religious independent school graduates are most likely to get an advanced degree. Catholic and non-religious independent graduates have a higher likelihood of attending post-secondary studies than public school graduates; however, Protestant graduates are just as likely as public school graduates to do so.
Catholic school graduates are the most consistently positive on giving and volunteering, showing a higher likelihood of volunteering outside the congregation and donating to charity, including secular and political causes. Graduates from independent religious schools (Protestant and Catholic) were more likely than public school graduates to participate in almost every officially measured category of volunteering, including fundraising, mentoring, teaching, and coaching.

The CES makes a significant methodological, theoretical, and empirical contribution to the research into religious schools in Canada and the United States. It is the only study that uses repeated measures to report on the outcome of religious non-government schooling and compares it to public school outcomes. Additionally, the CES has become recognized as one of the most comprehensive and valuable surveys of its kind among school practitioners, leaders, and policy-makers alike.

Full findings from Australian Schools and the Common Good, including family formation, group and association involvement, religious engagement, and social connectedness are freely available at

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