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2019: a good year at the chalkface for SCES

Barbara Coupar, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, reflects on the good work of SCES over the last year.

THIS year has been a particularly busy and productive year for the Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES). We had thought that, after the hectic calendar of events last year to mark the centenary of the 1918 Education Scotland Act, this year would have had a slower pace, but we were wrong!

While reflecting and summing up the past year for this article, it might have seemed obvious to focus on the challenges we are facing: attempts to remove our Church Representatives from local council education committees; ill-informed arguments that suggest Catholic schools cause sectarianism and the latest headlines that tell us local authorities are talking of rationalising (reducing) their Catholic education provision.

However, these challenges, albeit that they are very public and take up a lot of column inches in the media, do not accurately reflect the real experiences of our education community this year. Sometimes, it is important that we remind ourselves not to allow the agenda of other people to influence how we see things.

 

Highlights of the year

So, how would SCES sum up 2019?

Well, it would be simple to pick out some highlights of the SCES year solely based on events and activities. For example, our schools’ conference attended by over 200 senior secondary school pupils, organised in collaboration with Grasping The Nettle and, with Brother Guy Consolmagno, the Vatican astronomer; the Caritas award ceremony; being part of the SCES delegation representing Scotland at the global conference for Catholic education in New York; or working with our parents’ group, Religious Education advisers and Church Representatives on local authorities to develop a new and exciting network for parents with children in Catholic schools.

These events and moments of action, working with schools, parents, parishes and the wider Catholic education community are all important, however, they do not sum up the ‘best bit’ of 2019 for SCES.

Our biggest highlight for 2019 has been witnessing the momentum from the centenary celebrations carrying on. Our key message last year of ‘Catholic Schools Good For Scotland’ has moved from a tag line to being a sort of mission statement, put into action proudly every day in our schools.

 

Good for Scotland

We are seeing how good our schools are for Scotland on a daily basis through the hundreds of tweets and posts about the habits of Faith in our schools, from photos of morning prayers at assembly to images of learning about the Saints, particularly St Thérèse of Lisieux, in R.E. and notifications about liturgies and sacramental celebrations.

We heard it throughout the year when we met with more than 40 agencies and partners, seven working groups and at our 31 conferences for over 1,000 teachers, who all enthusiastically support and promote Catholic education. We even sense it when we are working with external groups and agencies who tell us there is something ‘unique’ about our Catholic schools.

The positive message about Catholic schools has also been echoed in the Scottish Parliament’s recent cross-party debate, hosted by Elaine Smith MSP as part of Catholic Education Week in November. During this debate, we heard MSPs from across the political spectrum praise the Catholic schools in their constituencies and share their experiences of Catholic education.

 

Caritas

Each MSP spoke of the impact of the charity work from our schools, the positive destinations of our pupils and the way in which Catholic education helps to meet the needs of those who are based in their community. Funnily enough, time had to be added on to extend the debate because so many of them wanted to talk about how Catholic schools really are good for Scotland!

The wider celebrations from 2018 have inspired and encouraged our school communities to promote their distinctive nature. Therefore, we definitely get a sense that our Catholic education community is optimistic, confident and united, as we embark on ‘the next 100 years of our schools, which should be a highlight for everyone in the Church.

 

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