BY Daniel Harkins | September 16 2016 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Education minister tackles Catholic teacher shortage

John Swinney offers support at primary headteachers’ conference

The Deputy First Minister John Swinney has committed the Scottish Government to help solve the shortage of Catholic teachers.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills spoke to the Catholic primary school headteachers association (CHAPS) on Friday, September 9, in St Andrews where he also expressed his admiration for Catholic schools.

Mr Swinney also reiterated his position that schools would not be removed from local authority management. The latter point comes as the government launches a consultation into giving more power to schools, and amid calls from some for schools to be allowed to operate outside of council control.

The lack of Catholic teachers in Scotland has been a concern for some time with Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, president of the Catholic Education Commission, this year referring to the ‘significant consequences’ facing Catholic education should the ‘acute’ problem not be addressed.

Minister’s praise

Speaking to the SCO after the conference, Mr Swinney, whose children attend a Catholic school, said: “I have visited many Catholic schools where I have been incredibly impressed by the relentless efforts of teachers and headteachers to deliver excellence and equity in Scottish education.

“This vision is shared with the Scottish Government and is one which must continue to be a national endeavour if we are to close the attainment gap and raise standards for all.

“I am also pleased that the Scottish Government is able to support the work of the University of Glasgow in supporting more teachers to gain the certificate they need to teach in Catholic schools, addressing the demand for teachers and future leaders in Catholic schools.”

The Catholic Church supports a number of programmes to increase Catholic teacher numbers, including a Glasgow University scheme—Certificate in Religious Education by Distance Learning (CREDL)—which is part-subsidised by the Church. From this year, Strathclyde and Edinburgh universities will now offer Catholic teacher training, with Glasgow University providing staff and materials.

Archbishop’s address

Speaking on the first day of the two-day conference, Archbishop Tartaglia said that by June next year there would be ‘nearly 350 extra teachers qualified to teach RE within Catholic schools,’ and said that the Setting Out on the Road scheme—an introductory course on teaching Religious Education in Catholic schools—has attracted more than 200 teachers from across Scotland. He said he had raised with the Scottish Government the possibility of extending the scheme to other Initial Teacher Education establishments.


“These initiatives are helping in some way to getting some of the numbers that we need to cope with the teacher shortages that we are facing across the dioceses, however, it cannot just be about the numbers,” Archbishop Tartaglia said.

“Getting the right people is essential… if we have the right people, with the capacity to deliver challenging and purposeful learning in an atmosphere of loving, respectful relationships, built on their own personal encounter with Jesus Christ, who see that their faith beliefs and practices impact on their ability to transmit the wonder and awe of God’s creation and their capability of bringing the heritage of our Church alive for the pupils in their care, then we are fulfilling the mission of our schools, and others will want to be part of that life giving community of education and faith.”

More than 200 people came to St Andrew’s Fairmont Hotel for the conference (above), which also heard from Professor Graham Donaldson, former Senior Chief Inspector of Education and author of a 2011 landmark education review Teaching Scotland’s Future. On the Friday, delegates heard from Professor Patrick Reilly of Glasgow University and Bishop John Keenan of Paisley.

James McCrory, President of CHAPS, said he came away from the conference with a view that Catholic schools are ‘very much a part of government plans.’ “The theme that came through is that Catholic schools are good for Scotland and Catholic schools serve the common good,” he said, adding that Mr Swinney came across as both a parent and a minister in his support for education and ‘closing the attainment gap.’

Barbara Coupar, director of SCES, said the annual conference benefits headteachers by getting different generations of school leaders together. “One of the teachers was saying that some of the younger headteachers are maybe not consciously aware of the heritage and history of the Catholic schools because they have come through a time in their own education when their wasn’t necessarily the same political will to get rid of Catholic schools,” she said. “So they maybe take them for granted a little and have to be reminded that this is a privileged position we are in.”

She added that she is hopeful that teacher numbers are moving in the right direction and that ‘we are make significant steps,’ on the issue. Mr Swinney, she said, acknowledged that Catholic schools play an important part in improving Scottish education, adding that ‘I definitely get the impression that he has a personal experience of the quality of what Catholic education can bring.’






—This story ran in full in the September 16 edition print of the SCO, available in parishes.


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