Catholic schools are part of the bedrock of education
— Work of secondary school headteachers praised by speakers at CHAS conference
As Others See Us, was the theme for Catholic secondary school headteachers from Scotland to ponder over and discuss as they gathered with Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell for their annual conference at Crieff Hydro last Thursday and Friday.
The headteachers and the bishop president of the Catholic Education Commission heard from a host of speakers over the course of the two-day conference, including education minister Mike Russell, who said that Catholic schools form part of the ‘bedrock of education in Scotland.’
Mr Russell praised Catholic schools’ ‘distinctive and prominent values,’ their ‘compassion for the poor and disadvantaged’ and, particularly, the ‘esteem given to loving parenting.’
“Your schools understand and honour the role that parents and families play in giving children the safe harbour they need to grow in confidence and ambition so that they can achieve all they can,” Mr Russell said.
The education minister highlighted that he had enjoyed a ‘frank and helpful conversation’ with the Scottish Catholic Education Service on the Church’s opposition to same-sex ‘marriage’ and said he is looking forward to ‘further opportunities for discussion’ on the issue.
Maureen McKenna, executive director for education at Glasgow City Council, reaffirmed Mr Russell’s defence of the role of Catholic schools in the Scottish education system, by commenting that denominational schools have a ‘very firm place’ in Scottish society.
“It can be easy for Catholic schools to take a defensive stance,” Ms McKenna said, adding that as part of her former work with HMIe she recalled advising a headteacher to ‘stop being an embarrassed Catholic and start promoting the Catholicity of your school.’
Ms McKenna told Catholic headteachers that they ‘need to be proud of the Gospel values’ that permeate through their schools.
On Thursday afternoon, Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, spoke to the headteachers and education representatives on the theme of the conference.
Mr Kearney spoke of the difficulties and challenges facing Catholic schools ‘against a very secular national landscape.’ He said that in a society in which the Church is ‘without question the pre-eminent moral voice’ its increased visibility has made it more of a target for criticism.
“I have previously proposed that we suffer from a deep seated antipathy towards Catholicism in Scotland, and been challenged for saying so, but I repeat that assertion today,” Mr Kearney said. “Sadly it is not an issue which is fairly or accurately covered in the Scottish media, this undoubtedly clouds perceptions.”
Mr Kearney added that we should ‘not have to constantly defend our Faith or the existence of our schools, especially when they perform so outstandingly well, but sadly we have to.’
“There is no evidence that our schools foster bigotry: Quite the opposite,” Mr Kearney said. “A pluralistic society needs to be tolerant—which means accepting and celebrating difference… Education should help integrate people into society—and empower them to improve it. Catholic schools do this and continue to offer opportunities to the Church, to the State and to Scottish society in general.
“If there is one message I hope can be transmitted to the next generation it is that the vigorous defence of our schools and our Faith is likely to be something they will be engaged in throughout their adult lives, we owe them the best preparation possible.”
Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, spoke to headteachers and guests on Friday.
“I encouraged CHAS members to appreciate that there were different ways of looking at the same thing and encouraged them to help students to use their faith to inspire a positive view of life,” he said. “I also challenged them to look inwards and evaluate honestly at how well the faith mission of the school was understood and shared by all.”
A family perspective to the conference’s theme was offered by Tony Coultas, a parent member of the Catholic Education Commission.
The conference also provided the opportunity to announce that the results have been published for the Pope Benedict XVI Caritas Award, which senior Catholic school pupils have been working towards this academic year.
CHAS president Isabelle Boyd, headteacher of Cardinal Newman High School, Bellshill, said the award had been a ‘fantastic experience for pupils’ and that the academic year 2011/12 has been a ‘remarkable session for Catholic education in Scotland.’