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Education secretary praises Catholic schools

Amanda Connelly

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has praised Scotland’s Catholic schools, applauding the ‘positive contribution’ that they make to Scotland across a vast number of areas.

The education minister was one of the guest speakers at the annual Catholic Headteachers’ Association of Scotland (CHAS) conference last week. Mr Swinney addressed the delegates present on the theme for this year’s conference, ‘Companions in Faith,’ and spoke of the government’s plans to have equal opportunities for children from all backgrounds.

“For nearly 100 years, Roman Catholic schools have been part of the Scottish education system,” he told the SCO following the event. “The Scottish Government welcomes the positive contribution that denominational education has made in ensuring we have successful learners, effective contributors, responsible citizens and confident individuals.

“The Scottish Government values the significant contribution that all Faith communities make to public life in Scotland, supporting the most vulnerable people in our society and developing community cohesion.

Mr Swinney said he was ‘delighted’ to speak at the conference, and to ‘have the opportunity to outline some of our key education reforms that will enable us to deliver excellence and equity in Scottish education and to have the chance to hear first-hand from headteachers, the key players in this process.’

“Since my appointment, I have been very clear about my purpose in this role,” he added. “I see it to ensure that every child has an equal chance to fulfil his or her potential… to use every moment in this term of parliament to interrupt the cycle of deprivation and poverty which attacks the life chances of far too many children.”

Mr Swinney’s speech marked a ‘welcome return’ to the CHAS community, where he has previously addressed those present on a more personal level. This year’s conference was held in Cumbernauld’s Westerwood Hotel across Thursday May 11 and Friday May 12, at which all of Scotland’s Catholic headteachers were present.

Other speakers at the CHAS conference included Dame Elish Angiolini, the former Lord Advocate of Scotland and principal of St Hugh’s College, Oxford, who spoke of how, from her earliest days growing up in Govan—and attending Notre Dame High School in Greenock—until the present day, she has been a companion to some of the most vulnerable groups within society. Graham Donaldson, honorary professor at Glasgow University’s School of Education, also spoke at the conference, as did Eric Allan, former headteacher of St Matthew’s Academy in North Ayrshire; Fr Stephen Reilly, the co-ordinator of spiritual and pastoral formation at Glasgow University, and Barbara Coupar, the director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES).

Chairperson of CHAS John Reilly, headteacher of Holy Cross High School in Hamilton, said the conference was ‘absolutely excellent,’ and praised the quality with which the ‘outstanding group of speakers’ delivered their presentations. “All of the speakers delivered presentations that were really thought provoking and really inspiring for the delegates,” he said.

In keeping with the tradition of the CHAS conference, all those present celebrated Mass on the Thursday afternoon.

The principal celebrant was Fr Michael McMahon, along with Mgr Ken McCaffrey, Fr Joseph Lappin and Fr Stephen Reilly. The conference and Mass proved to be one of great significance for Mgr McCaffrey, as he stepped down after 20 years of ‘fantastic’ service as an advisor in Dunkeld Diocese for Catholic education.

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