February 2 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Good for Scotland: the incredible value of Catholic schools to our society

Catholics and non-Catholics, teachers, priests and politicians tell us why Faith-based education has such a positive influence

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Education (Scotland) Act which brought Catholic schools into the state sector. To mark the anniversary, the Church have adopted the theme ‘Catholic schools—good for Scotland.’ Here, we ask a range of people to explain just what value faith schools bring to society.


Anne Marie Absolom, headteacher, St Clare’s Primary School, Newton Mearns:

St Clare’s Primary School in Newton Mearns opened in August 2017. Our school is a brand new state of the art facility, situated on a campus shared with our friends in the Jewish school Calderwood Lodge.

Prior to our school opening there were some questions raised about how we would ensure the Catholicity of our school whilst sharing with others. Yet from day one the Faith commitment from our families, my staff, pupils and my own Faith has enabled us to establish our identity as a Catholic school. Our school motto—‘Love God, Serve God’—has provided a strong foundation on which we have built a loving, supportive community.

The architects worked wonders in creating a building where two schools can retain their unique identity, where children are immersed in their own Faith, whilst learning to respect and as only children can, question and learn about each other’s beliefs.

Being the founder headteacher of St Clare’s really is a once in a lifetime opportunity. As a Catholic headteacher I continually draw on my Faith and ask God to guide me on this journey, as I fulfil my vocation.

I believe God has called me to lead in St Clare’s and it is a true honour and privilege to be able to come to work every day and put my Faith into action, through spreading God’s love within the newly established community of St Clare’s.


Elaine Smith, MSP for Central Scotland:

I was very fortunate to live in the catchment area of St Patrick’s High School in Coatbridge; widely recognised at that time as being one of the academically top performing schools in the area.

Everyone in the school community had the opportunity to engage daily with their Faith ethos. It was a lived experience which permeated every aspect of school life.

Being at a Catholic school not only provided the opportunity to take part in worship but also served pupils well by instilling a sense of social responsibility, including participating in charitable deeds.

I particularly remember the Wednesday night ‘soup run’ when pupils would help to make large pots of soups then take them in to Glasgow’s George Square to serve homeless people.

We also collected food packages during the winter months to deliver to local elderly people who were stuck at home. In the run-up to Easter there was a greater focus on giving to Lenten charities rather than giving up chocolate.

Being at a Catholic school was helpful to me when, at the age of 15, my dad died suddenly. Being able to sit in the oratory and be supported by the school chaplain was of great comfort to me at that difficult time.

Overall, I believe a Catholic education is distinctive in that it provides a context for young people to engage in worship and Christian action as well as having staff to lead worship as well as demonstrating Christian life and values. Everyone in the school community has the opportunity to engage daily with their Faith.


Carol Monaghan, MP for Glasgow North West:

Catholic schools have been a key part of the Scottish educational landscape since 1918. As we reach this important centenary, we should take the opportunity to celebrate the contribution of Catholic education to the lives of our young people and to wider Scottish society.

Memories of my own schooldays at St Paul’s Primary in Whiteinch include English and maths lessons and weekly hymn practice when hawk-eyed teachers patrolled the rows with their Lochgelly belts. By the time I started at St Thomas Aquinas Secondary, corporal punishment had thankfully been banished to educational history and as a curious young Catholic I found myself in an environment where Faith issues could be explored, questioned and debated.

Of course modern-day Catholic education has developed from my experiences 40 years ago, but the fundamental elements remain. People often talk about the ‘Catholic ethos’ permeating all activities, and certainly I agree this is important. But one of the many strengths of our schools today is the learning environment which allows pupils to investigate their Faith and other world faiths, gaining the confidence to express beliefs openly. How many young Catholics would feel comfortable debating or challenging the ethical issues surrounding assisted suicide, abortion or refugee support, when they may be at odds with their peers?

Of course Catholic education does not simply take place in our schools and we must remember that parents will always be the primary educators. Strengthened by the Church community, they have the most important role to play in a young person’s Faith journey. But many of us are privileged to have had our development in Faith supported by Catholic education and as we celebrate this important centenary, I pay tribute to the generations of teachers who have dedicated their lives to ensuring our young ­people are fully equipped to take their place in the world.


Michael Harkins, Principal Teacher at St Gerard’s Primary, Bellshill:

At St Gerard’s Primary our Religious Education curriculum is designed to nurture Faith and assist children and young people to be able to make an informed response to God in Faith. All classes use the ‘This is our Faith’ programme to continually embed the Gospel values in all aspects of their education.

One of my main roles as a Catholic educator is to help children develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of their own Faith. Catholic education fosters a sense of community and encourages children to seek opportunities to put their Faith in action in their daily lives.

The Catholic community has made and continues to make a significant and overwhelmingly positive contribution to life in Scotland. Many well-known individuals, as well as less well-known heroes, daily give of themselves in, education, health, social work and law to name but a few professions. All started their careers in a Catholic school with an ethos of service to the wider community


Pauline Barr, Principal Teacher for RE at Cardinal Newman High School, Bellshill:

I am very fortunate to have worked in four fantastic Catholic secondary schools across Scotland. Within all of these school communities there has been a tangible sense of duty to look beyond our own needs and concerns and an emphasis placed on the importance to care for others; encouraging pupils to recognise that developing a social conscience cannot be separated from our development in Faith.

Some of the most memorable experiences that pupils mention in ‘end of year’ reviews and indeed in yearbook reflections, are those very experiences gained by putting their Faith into action and caring for others.

Throughout my career it has been a real joy to support young people in these efforts, which have included working with youth SSVP groups and Caritas pupils. These pupils have been involved in various activities in their local care home in order to create and maintain garden areas, provide Christmas concerts, Eucharistic services, and even hair and beauty treatments!

They have also welcomed refugee families from Syria into their new communities by holding toy and clothing appeals and distributing Christmas gifts to those were spending the night on the streets.

Being able to witness, not only the profound impact of these actions on the beneficiaries, but the subsequent impact on the spiritual growth and maturity of our young people, is a real privilege.

Knowing that this spiritual formation helps shape the outlook of our young people in a way that enriches the lives of others is, for me, a fundamental reason why I believe Catholic schools are good for Scotland!


Jennifer Fallon, Former pupil at Taylor High, Motherwell:

I’m not Catholic but I went to a Catholic school where religion was engrained in everything. It was emphasised a lot that we should think about other people—everything was about giving to others before yourself. That has always stayed with me.

I took part in the Caritas Award—everyone, Catholics and non-Catholics, were encouraged to take part—and it allowed me to give more to the community.

Catholic schools work on pupils’ morals: they don’t just focus on academic work but also on growing the person. I feel like they produce pupils who are high achievers; pupils who are spiritually aware. They build a sense of community through things like Mass. I would encourage anyone to send their kids to a Catholic school.


Fr Augustine McBeth, Orthodox priest at the Church of the Archangel Gabriel:

My own education in a Catholic school gave me first a sense of community. It was a community where I was valued as an individual, where always there was a sense of care and support. It taught me the importance and joy of service for others, of putting Jesus in the centre of my life. My school motto, ‘ad majorem Dei gloriam’, meaning for the greater glory of God, has been a foundational maxim in my life, teaching me the importance of doing more for Christ and, therefore, doing more for others.

Research shows that Catholic schools perform better than other schools in the same area. One reason for this, I feel, is that they offer a supportive ethos which involves everyone from the pupils themselves to the wider community. The whole school community is equipped and encouraged to take the caring values of their Catholic education out into the world. Poverty blights our country with one in five children growing up in poverty and it behoves us to support and help teachers to tell these children how valuable they are and to give them the chance to flourish. There is no better way than through a good Catholic education.

While Scotland’s Catholic schools must be unapologetically Catholic, Roman Catholic schools are not simply here for Catholics: they are here for everyone. Their basic premise is that all are welcome. From an Orthodox perspective we have great comfort in knowing that our children are in an educational environment that will reinforce much of what is in the Eastern Church.”

“We and other Christians also enhance our Roman Catholic peers academic and spiritual formation… often non-Catholics can elevate the dialogue in religion classes because they have less knowledge than cradle Catholics and ask more questions.”


Canon Michael McMahon, Director of Education, Paisley Diocese:

Paisley Diocese recently contributed to a Scottish Government consultation paper on empowering schools. Interestingly, no mention is made in the document to the distinctive nature of Catholic education in the formation of the whole human person—not education for the workplace solely, but education for a contribution to the common good. So governments do as governments do.

At the same time, promulgated this week, Pope Francis wrote a document on the principles and future of Catholic education called Gaudium Veritatis—on the joy of truth.

The fundamental principles are in themselves an education—the Holy Father suggests four pillars on which we build as educators and learners.

The first is what he calls learning on our knees—a spirit of openness is required for learning.

The second is that dialogue is a vital tool for learning. Respectful listening leads to a genuine dialogue which fosters growth. In the third pillar he mentions an ‘interdisciplinary approach’—the cross-fertilisation of ideas—and the fourth and final criterion is the urgent need for networking among those who provide education so that the provision of education does not perpetuate, the inequalities of our world.

The universal nature and mission of the Church suggests that our ability and desire to share best practise can be to the good of all who seek to better the educational chances of all within the Catholic world.

There are common elements between both bits of my homework—Vatican document and Scottish consultation—notably the desire for dialogue and a desire to build a wider learning community.

The differences too seem obvious: the government’s proposed dialogue is principally on paper, the Church’s is of the mind and the heart based on our shared humanity and desire to grow together as we learn.

We should not be surprised by the Church’s wisdom in this regard: we have been the world’s largest non-governmental provider of education for more than a millennium and have discovered that when we stop listening we stop learning.

That some of the government’s proposals for consultation have already begun to be implemented suggests that is a lesson which requires revision.

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