BY Ryan McDougall | October 11 2019 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

SCHOOLCHILD PRAYING (3)

‘Our schools are inclusive, not divisive,’ say headteachers

Catholic Primary headteachers reject secular arguments as they gather for annual CHAPS conference.

Catholic schools are inclusive, not divisive, headteachers emphasised this week as the Archbishop of Glasgow urged them not to shy away from their Catholic ethos.

The recent debate in the secular world over closing Catholic schools was one of the subjects of discussion at the annual Catholic Headteachers Association of Primary Schools (CHAPS) conference at the Dunblane Hydro on October 3-4.

The conference included a workshop at which teachers discussed the inclusion of children of other faiths in their schools.

Debunking secular argument

Sr Isabel Smyth, secretary for interreligious dialogue for the Bishop’s Conference of Scotland, lead the workshop.

She said that the fact there are many pupils of other faiths attending Catholic Schools ‘absolutely’ debunks recent claims in the media that Catholic schools are the cause of bigotry in Scotland.

“If you look at our Catholic schools, many of them are multi-faith and a lot of the children don’t belong to any faith whatsoever.

“If we teach and promote a Catholic ethos at its best then we are doing what’s best for the country,” she said.

Inclusive

Present at the workshop was Clare Harker, headteacher of St Albert’s Primary School in Glasgow (pictured right, left of photo).

More than 90 per cent of the school’s pupils are from a Muslim background, a small percentage are Catholic and the remainder are made up of other faiths and none.

Mrs Harker said she wanted to make sure that ‘everybody is very clear that Catholic schools aren’t just the preserve of Catholics and that they’re not about proselytising or indoctrination, they’re about a way of loving—and I think that’s what Catholic schools are doing.’

Catholic ethos

She added: “I think people very much choose to come to our school because of the ethos and presence of God and God-like values.”

In his homily during Mass at the conference, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow asked the teachers to ‘deepen’ their schools’ Faith, for people of all faiths and none, stressing that the ‘religious ethos is something that attracts parents.’

Bishop Brian McGee of Argyll and the Isles was a keynote speaker at the conference.

He said: “I’ve spent most of my life in and around Catholic schools. I went to one myself and for 27 years I worked in Catholic schools as a priest. Now, as a bishop, I’ve been involved in Catholic schools for the last three and a half years.

“I’ve never once, in all my time, heard anything sectarian or anything divisive within a Catholic school.”

Faith journey

CHAPS chairman James Kerr, headteacher of St Paul’s Primary School, Whiteinch, said the idea that Catholic schools cause separation among children of different faiths is ‘absolutely the total opposite of what a Catholic school is.’

“We recognise the faith journey of people of other faiths and of no faith,” Mr Kerr explained.

The curriculum for Catholic education in Scotland, ‘This is Our Faith’, governs the teaching of religious education in Catholic schools. In the curriculum there is a section dedicated to inclusion of other faiths in Catholic schools.

Mr Kerr added: “We are in the business of making saints, and saints come from all kinds of backgrounds.

“It’s not an easy journey for us, but Jesus didn’t have an easy journey either,” he said. “For headteachers there are challenges, but the bottom line is that you know ultimately you are doing God’s work.”

Catechism

Archbishop Tartaglia of Glasgow called on headteachers to be ‘lead catechists’ and ‘chief evangelisers’ in schools.

Speaking on the day, Archbishop Tartaglia told the headteachers: “You’ve heard often enough that Catholic teachers are called to be evangelists in their schools, they’re called to the mission of evangelisation, and Catholic headteachers occupy the post of chief evangelisers in their school community.”

The archbishop called upon the headteachers to ‘take the next step’ in being ‘more conscious, more informed, more living in Faith and leading in Faith’ in their schools.

“I love all my headteachers, but I can see when I go to a school when it’s on the button and when it isn’t,” he added.

“And what I’m asking you to do is to kind of take that step to make it more conscious, deeper, more felt, lived so that the boys and girls that are in your care will have a great experience of being a Catholic Christian.”

Commitment

Bishop Brian McGee of Argyll and the Isles, attending his first CHAPS conference, said: “It was great to see so many committed headteachers from all across the country who are here and interested in their Faith and are passing that Faith onto young people in their care.”

Barbara Coupar, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, agreed with the archbishop that Catholic headteachers must ‘take the next step’ in ‘building the Faith dimension’ in schools.

She said: “There are a lot of things we are doing very well, but one of the things we take for granted is the underlying Catholic dimension of our schools and I think that we’re at the point where we need to be a bit more up front about that and articulate it more.”

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