Date of Submission



The purpose of this study is to explore how Catholic education authorities guarantee the Special Character of New Zealand Catholic schools. Since principals hold primary responsibilities in demonstrating evidence of Special Character of the Catholic school, this study particularly explores how secondary school principals fulfil this responsibility.
New Zealand Catholic schools are State integrated schools under the 1975 Private Schools Conditional Integration Act (PSCIA). This Act enabled private schools to be fully government funded, while continuing to maintain and enhance their Special Character. Special Character is important to the Catholic Church because it enables its schools to offer an authentic Catholic education as a State funded school. They are State schools with a Special Character
The following specific research questions were generated from the Literature Review to focus the study:

1. What do principals understand by the term Special Character?
2. How do principals implement Special Character in their schools?
3. How do Catholic education authorities understand the role of the Catholic school in mission?

An epistemological framework of constructionism underpins this study as it explores the meaning constructed through the experiences of principals. An interpretivist design is adopted, with Symbolic Interactionism providing the particular interpretivist lens. Case study is the methodology chosen to orchestrate the data gathering strategies. The strategies utilised are focus groups, semi-structured interviews and questionnaire. There were 31 participants in the study: 20 principals and 11 members of the National Catholic Special Character review group.

The research generates six conclusions that contribute to new knowledge about the Special Character of Catholic schools. First, New Zealand Catholic schools operate in a pluralistic society where the Christian Worldview no longer prevails. This influences the traditional school-family-Church relationships. This lack of clarity of relationships impacts the implementation of Special Character.
Second, while Special Character is a term used extensively in New Zealand education, there is a lack of clarity about the precise meaning of this term. Consequently, there is a dissonance between Government and Church expectations of what demonstrates Special Character.
Third, principals recognise that the implementation and enhancement of the Special Character of their school is important to both their school identity (Catholic) and purpose (education).
Fourth, tensions concerning the status of Religious Education in the timetable have been mitigated with the introduction of Achievement Standards in Religious Education. Religious Education is acknowledged as a primary contributor to demonstrating a Catholic school’s Special Character.

Fifth, principals are concerned that Catholic education authorities critique schools’ mission endeavours through evidence concerning students’ personal relationship with Jesus. Principals perceive that Catholic education authorities ‘measure’ this relationship by student attendance at Sunday Mass.
Finally, principals are expected to nurture Special Character by assuming the role of faith leader. Principals lack understanding about this role and its practicalities.


School of Religious Education

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


290 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Education and Arts


Research Location