February 10 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


A living Faith in our schools, churches and homes

— MICHAEL McGRATH, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service explains how the new religious education syllabus aims to imbue schoolchildren with a lasting love for the Catholic Faith

The words ‘This is our Faith’ are easy to say but they carry a huge weight of meaning and responsibility. These four simple words form the title of the new religious education syllabus, which has been developed by the Church here in Scotland and approved by Church authorities in Rome. This syllabus offers great hope for the religious education and formation of young people in homes, schools and parishes in the years ahead.

The syllabus has been given the title This Is Our Faith in order to remind us of the words spoken in the Rite of Baptism when those who have gathered for the celebration of the Sacrament proclaim their Faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The syllabus has been created to help children and young people to experience and to understand the richness of the Catholic Faith. It provides very clear direction to teachers, Catechists and parents about the Faith, learning which children should benefit from at various stages in their lives, from infancy through to their teenage years.

While children are no longer expected to recite answers to Catechism questions, the new syllabus is built firmly on the four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church so that pupils will learn that our Faith is not only to be professed, but is to be celebrated, prayed and lived. By building This is Our Faith on the authorised teaching of the Church, we have responded to the Holy Father’s words when he asked the Scottish Bishops in February 2010 to ‘place special emphasis on the quality and the depth of religious education,  so as to prepare an articulate and well-informed Catholic laity, able and willing to carry out its mission.’

This is why Church authorities in Rome have granted a decree of Recognitio to the new syllabus, verifying that it is Faithful to the teaching of the Church. This is, in itself, a rare and a significant achievement, one which should encourage us to recognise the potential of the new syllabus to form our young people Faithfully.

In the Missal translation that we now use at Mass, we ‘dare’ to pray the Our Father ‘at the Saviour’s command and formed by divine teaching.’ The divine teaching which forms us, of course, is Almighty God’s inspiration, expressed in his Holy Word, celebrated in the Sacred Mysteries and mediated through His Church.

Each of us grows in the understanding of our Faith when we read the Bible, when we celebrate the Sacraments, when we pray to Almighty God, when we are inspired to live good, holy lives by the example of Our Blessed Lady, by learning about the lives of the saints and in learning about the lived experience of other people who have shown God’s love in loving and serving others.

This is Our Faith supports all young people in this ‘divine learning’ by defining for parents and teachers what should be learned and when. It specifies the opportunities which should be provided for children and young people to come to know Jesus, to know His teaching, to be inspired by His words and actions and, above all, to love Jesus as the Son of God who was born to redeem us from sin.  It specifies in detail when children should become familiar with particular scripture passages and aspects of Church doctrine, when they should learn particular prayers, when and how they should experience the Sacraments and participate in Liturgical celebration.

Of course, such learning must be enabled, provided and supported by parents, teachers, Catechists and clergy who can play their part in ‘forming’ young people in the divine teaching of the Church.  This will require adults to be fully informed about the new syllabus and about when and how young people’s learning will be affected by it in the coming years.

Work has been underway for some time now to help teachers and Catechists to become familiar with the document. They will continue to receive support in the coming years as we work to build confidence and to share best practice around the country. It is hoped that parents and grandparents can also be provided with support in their own Faith education to help them to play their part in supporting the Faith development of children.  It should be recognised that this provides a particular challenge to the Church in Scotland as we try to support and sustain adult Faith development with limited resources.

Perhaps, as we plan our strategy for supporting the Church’s Year of Faith in Scotland, we can identify ways to provide adequate support to people of all ages so that we can all ‘dare’ to proclaim throughout our lives: “This is our Faith. This is the Faith of the Church.”

—Michael McGrath is the director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES) which has published This is Our Faith on behalf of the Bishops of Scotland

—Copies of This Is Our Faith can be

purchased directly from the SCES website: http://www.sces.org.uk

ISABELLE BOYD of The Catholic Headteachers’ Association of Scotland (CHAS), and Barbara Service of the Association of Scottish Catholic Primary Head Teachers (CHAPS) on the syllabus

By Isabelle Boyd

Headteacher Cardinal Newman High School, Bellshill; chairwoman of CHAS

The theme of Catholic Education Week is This is our Faith, the title of the Catholic Church’s official guidance governing the teaching of religious education to young people from P1 to S3 in all Catholic schools in Scotland.

I wonder how many of you are reminiscing about your experiences at school. Do you remember? “Who made you?” “God made me.” “Why did God make you?” “God made me to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in the next.”

It would seem that life and Faith were so much simpler then. When we look around us today we see overwhelming evidence of a society often at odds with our Faith.

We see the impact of a global financial crisis which has resulted from greed, dishonesty and a lack of integrity. We see a growing disparity between the rich and the poor, even in our own country. We see international conflicts which originate in human greed and culminate in unjust imprisonment, repression and death. We see a growing contempt for the dignity of human and the abandonment of the family unit nurtured in the loving and faithful commitment of husbands and wives.

No wonder, then that so many young people are confused and uncertain. They are constantly bombarded by explicit images on a whole range of media and given a false sense of worth and value. The role and the purpose of the Catholic school have therefore never been more important. There are many texts written about pedagogy and the art of teaching. Success in teaching, as in most areas of life, depends almost entirely on your attitude and your approach. One text describes the six keys to being a successful teacher as sense of humour, positive attitude, high expectations, consistency, fairness and flexibility.

While these are undoubtedly true, I prefer the view expressed by St John B de la Salle:

“Example leaves a far stronger impression on the mind and heart than words, especially for children, because they do not yet have a mind sufficiently able to reflect, and ordinarily model themselves on the example of their teachers.  They are led more readily to do what they see done for them than what they hear told to them, above all when teachers’ words are not in harmony with teachers’ actions.”

All who know me will not be surprised that I am going to quote from the sermons and writings of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. Cardinal Newman’s motto, Cor ad Cor loquitur, or heart speaks unto heart, was the theme chosen for the Pope Benedict XVI’s state visit to the UK in 2010 and the Holy Father paid particular tribute to Blessed John Henry’s vision for education, which did so much to shape the ethos that is the driving force behind Catholic schools and colleges today.

Newman is recognised as a first class role model for educators and young people alike due to his commitment to preaching, teaching, and writing.  Catholic teachers take very seriously the mission we have as teachers of young people. We endorse Newman’s view that we need young people to know what they hold dear, young people to have a moral compass and young people who can give an account of their values and beliefs. This is the role of Catholic education today. We are now admirably supported in this work by the publication and implementation of This is our Faith.

As a Catholic education community we are indebted to the foresight, hard work and mission of our Bishops, the Catholic Education Commission under the leadership of James McVittie and the sterling work and drive of Michael McGrath, director of the Sottish Catholic Education Service. With their support and guidance, teachers today are better placed to meet the conflicting demands of the job and to support young people on their journey to be ‘saints of the 21st century.’

Teaching is worthwhile. Teaching is truly a vocation. As Newman tells us:

“God has created each of us to do Him some definite service.

“He has committed some work to each of us which He has not committed to another.

“We have our mission.”

Catholic teachers have their mission.  I ask that you keep all of us involved in Catholic education in your prayers.

By Barbara Service

Headteacher St John’s Primary,

Edinburgh, president of CHAPS

In our Catholic schools, ‘teaching’ is defined explicitly in terms of Gospel values and is provided not only through programmes of religious education but across the whole life of the schools, in teaching programmes, in the relationships with pupils, staff and parents.

All who wish to teach in a Catholic school should be prepared to ensure that they understand the philosophy of Catholic education, which is embodied in every Catholic school. This distinctive approach is expressed in A Charter for Catholic Schools in Scotland.

On August 4 last year, the letter of decree signed by Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Prefect for the Congregation of the Clergy, arrived in Scotland. This was indeed momentous for all of our Catholic schools in Scotland and heralded an historic first.  A decree of recognitio from the Apostolic See was granted for This is Our Faith, the new religious education syllabus for Catholic schools.

Our main aim in St Andrews and Edinburgh Archdiocese, as with many other diocese, was over the course of this session, to bring the syllabus to life. Historically, the Veritas and Alive O programmes had been the core learning in religious education teaching.

These programmes, while having many good aspects, did not fully meet the learning needs of our Catholic pupils and it was evident that there were gaps in the teaching of aspects of our Faith.

With the vision of Curriculum for Excellence and the planned changes to teaching and learning there are a significant number of ways to deliver the new curriculum in an active and enterprising way, building on existing good practice in our school.

In the course of the previous session, staff were involved in CPD and working groups, giving constructive feedback on the draft guidelines. This session, exemplar plans were issued and the initiative entitled Pathways of Possibility—Avenues of Exploration which sequenced the content and core learning of the new syllabus in line with the Church’s year.  This was not intended to be prescriptive but gave teachers a framework to work within.

Staff have welcomed these new materials, which are not without challenge. They have commented on the value of the programme and the significant change to the focus on the Church’s teaching and the teachings of Jesus for the learners. The pupils, too, have a deeper understanding of their own Faith and are encouraged to be reflective, to discuss and have that peaceful time for prayer in their exploration of the eight Strands of Faith.

In my own school, recent staff CPD focused on section two of the document, which enabled teachers to deepen their understanding and raised awareness of the link between what we believe, what we learn from the Church and what we understand. This also highlighted the great responsibility we have in sharing our Faith with the pupils in our care.

This year of implementation is a journey of exploration. We have the opportunity to learn more  and deepen our faith and that of the pupils in our care.  Our schools in Scotland are charged with engaging staff, parents, learners and the parish in our work. We need to evaluate and discuss progress with all our stakeholders and share the very good practice across authorities.

Catholic Education Week is an important time to disseminate information to parents and the wider community on the role of the Catholic school.  We have retained the very best of practice in our schools, building on the distinct nature of the ethos of the Catholic school.

This is Our Faith, as a national document, will enrich the lives of all our pupils in our Catholic schools today, and as we chart our way through the new syllabus, we will continue to lead by example in our relationships with God and others.


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