by Peter Boylan, Willie Slavin and John Shoreland
Catholic Education
Our Heritage – Our Future
In his apostolic exhortation 'Evangelii Gaudium,' 'The Joy of the Gospels', Pope Francis puts 'the new evangelisation' firmly at the centre of Christian responsibility. He devotes the final part of his exhortation to what he calls 'Spirit-filled Evangelisers', evangelizers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit. He speaks of such people with 'soul' among nurses, teachers and even politicians; 'people who have chosen deep down to be with others and for others.' But he warns, 'once we separate our work from our private lives, we stop being a people.' He might have added that, as far as Catholic schools are concerned,
once we separate our work from our faith, our work becomes meaningless.
As reported in issue 16/5 of Networking, Archbishop McMahon spoke of being
'one generation away from the death of our faith.'
He went on to insist that our contribution to the Common Good of the Catholic Education enterprise can be taken as an aspect of our evangelising responsibility. The contribution to sharing an understanding of the purpose and commitment of our role as Catholic teachers is a part of that evangelization. Echoing and reinforcing Pope Francis' call, he highlighted the need for 'Spirit-filled Evangelisers' within the Catholic teaching community which is as great as the need for such people giving witness externally.
Unless and until those within the Catholic teaching profession discover such a vocation within themselves, the past experience of Catholic Education in this country, and its rich heritage, will be forgotten and its future compromised.
If we are looking into the abyss and are being forced to confront a truth that has perhaps been too awful to contemplate, a considered account of the distinct contribution of Catholic teachers to that heritage may offer the most useful starting point. The twentieth anniversary of the launch of the Catholic Association of Teachers, Schools and Colleges (CATSC) on Friday 22nd April next year offers a useful focal point, but is worth celebrating in its own right. Many current teachers in Catholic schools in this country may be forgiven for not knowing the motives which brought this Association into being or understanding the previous history of the Catholic teacher bodies. These Associations trace their origins to the late nineteenth century when many aspects of provision were very different, as was the nature of the local Church.
The Circumstances
Changes in the organisation of Catholic Education were proposed in the report of the Bishops Conference working party entitled 'Servicing Catholic Schools' (1988). Led by Bishop Lindsay, it recommended among other elements the formation of a new 'Catholic Education Service' together with an Education Council, on which all organisations working in Catholic Education should be represented. It sought to ensure an integrated vision for Catholic education and for a greater co-operation and coordination among these various bodies. The report reflected the changes taking place within the Church, within state education and in society generally.
Previously, in the mid-eighties with the Catholic Education Council (CEC), the Catholic Committee for In Service, Evaluation and Appraisal (CCEIA) had been set up under Bishop Mullins to provide guidance and development for Catholic educators. Representatives were drawn from all sectors of Catholic education.
The Appraisal committee did this work in anticipation of governmental imposition of appraisal for schools and teachers. At the same time, Headteachers from CCSSC organised roadshows in leadership, and their retreats for school leaders still continue. Additionally, representatives from the Catholic HE Colleges produced guidelines on Mission and Vision in Catholic Schools.
The Church was responding to the second Vatican Council. The decline in religious vocations, both to the priesthood and religious life demanded a greater contribution from Catholic laity, particularly for theologically informed Catholic lay educators.
Against a background of social liberalisation, the economy was moving rapidly from its industrial base to a less secure diversification driven by neo-liberal capitalism, characterised by a drive to an emphasis on individualism that allowed the prime minister of the day to claim that 'there was no such thing as society'.
'The Great Education Reform Act' (1988) provided for a National Curriculum, 'league tables', financial delegation, further responsibility for school governors and finally for schools to become 'Grant Maintained' free from Local Authority control. The seeds of the present structures can be traced to this measure, particualrly the establishment of OFSTED as a controlling body with its tentacles reaching far beyond schools.
At that time there were three Associations servicing Catholic schools and their teaching staff. The 'Association of Catholic Schools and Colleges,' (ACSC) the direct successor of the 'Conference of Catholic Secondary Schools and Colleges' (CCSSC) founded at the invitation of Cardinal Vaughan in 1896. In stages it included in membership all Headteachers of Catholic Secondary Schools, widened by the ACSC to include all Primary Headteachers. The Catholic Teachers Federation (CTF) founded in 1907, essentially grew from the elementary Poor School provision and brought together local branches to resist Government changes detrimental to Catholic statefunded schools. The third grouping was the Association of Religious in Education, (ARE) in direct line from the Association of Convent Schools founded in 1926. ARE formally disbanded in1996. In addition, one had also been formed in 1990, for non-maintained schools, the Catholic Independent Schools Conference (CISC).
It was the first Director of the new Catholic Education Service, Albert Price, a former Headteacher and HMI, who had the task of building up the recommended structures when the speed of change demanded by government legislation was at full tilt. Detailed demands on curriculum content and time gave rise to considerable pressure to reduce Religious Education within the Curriculum. A number of technicalities of financial delegation were detrimental to Voluntary Aided schools and 'open enrolment.' Open enrolment put the ability of Catholic schools to allow for a Catholic entry at serious risk. Grant Maintained schools created an unwelcome diversion. Ofsted Inspection reports alongside 'league tables' had a consequential effect on the schools' ethos. Both initial Teacher Training and Inset faced new pressures and additionally, financial provision was being reduced at a time when greater expenditure was required.
Through this period and subsequently, the need for a strong and united voice, speaking on behalf of the needs of all Catholic schools became paramount. The new CES proposed a consultative structure with three Forums representing Diocesan Commissions, Religious Advisers and Catholic Schools (NBRIA). Later a fourth was added to embrace the newly legislated circumstances of Sixth Form Colleges and Higher Education Institutions. This consultative structure was to feed into the proposed Education Council or Co-ordinating Committee whereby all the interested parties and their expertise would be equally represented.
Of the initial three forums, the first two were represented by existing bodies. The Diocesan Commissioners met regularly; the Religious Inspectors and Advisers (NBRIA) had a long-standing role. However, 'Forum Three' representing Catholic Schools and Teachers, had three very different groups to draw upon but geographically there were dioceses where few of these could be said to be active. The major task was to establish a body that could authentically represent the issues facing Catholic schools on a national basis.
The Commitment
Following Bishop Lindsay’s Report with its implied need for such a national grouping, the CES Director encouraged a union of these bodies which in itself matched the thinking of many Committee members of both the ACSC and the CTF.
On 4th November 1993 at Newman College, Officers from the CTF and ACSC, agreed that "in view of the changing circumstances in the field of education in this country and the needs and issues facing Catholic Teachers, Schools and Colleges and their work in the mission of the Church," and committed to the establishment of an organisation to meet the needs of those teachers and their schools and colleges. A Steering Group drawn equally from CTF and ACSC appointees, under the leadership of the Chairman of Forum Three, worked over three years to bring the CATSC into existence.
The prospectus for the new association was extensive but realistic. It would be seen to be a vibrant new organisation. A council, drawn from regions and interests would in turn appoint a leadership executive committee to include the Officers. Interest committees would cover INSET and Professional Development, Membership Services; Research and Development; and Recruitment. There would be both a simple newsletter and a reflective professional journal. Subscriptions based on school membership were set at a level to provide the necessary infrastructure including a remunerated Professional Development Officer. Such an appointment would ensure that at a time of over-demanding school life, the demands of running the association could be met.
Much of this structure for CATSC and the CES was in place following the launch by Cardinal Hume in 1996. For whatever reason, this bears little resemblance to what is visible to the naked eye almost twenty years down the line.
The visionary vibrancy of both the original prospectus for Catholic education in England and Wales and for CATSC has in many ways been lost.
The Role of Networking
'Networking, Catholic Education Today' has been produced for much of this period. It was set up in 1999 to provide the reflective journal identified by the CATSC Steering Group. 'Networking Catholic Education Trust' (NETCET), a not for profit company, became an independent foundation led by an editorial of experienced and committed Catholic educators.
The publication schedule and advertising were agreed with Bellcourt Ltd, managed by John Clawson who at that time was also responsible for a stable of Diocesan newspapers. An agreement on block subscriptions with CATSC, the Independent Schools organisation (CISC), and others was later extended to Scottish Catholic schools, assured a level financial viability, but one that depended upon the generosity of a board willing to work pro bono.
Where are these children now in early adulthood?
The aim was to provide constituent organisations with a professional journal available to their members and include space for their own identified activities, as well as to report on the principal events in their calendars. As a professional journal serving the distinctive nature of Catholic schools it included supporting articles on Religious education and the nature of a Catholic school in addition to commentary on secular developments as they might affect the daily practice of Catholic schools. An important section celebrated the individual success of schools and reported on their various initiatives. CAFOD and Mission Together became regular editorial participants.
The important Research and Development section continues to be led by Prof. Gerald Grace from the Centre for Research and Development in Catholic Schools (CRDCE). The CRDCE had pioneered the development of a research-based study of Catholic schools with research projects and publications on topical issues. This symbiotic relationship between Networking and CRDCE remains one of the abiding strengths of the journal.
NETCET, through its editorial team and other likeminded collaborators such as Educarem, has been involved in a variety of other activities particularly in research, providing INSET both across the UK and overseas, advisory work and similar related initiatives.
Handing on the Baton, 'Spirit-filled Evangelisers required!'
The whole Networking initiative was intended to be a participatory contribution to the role and work of the Catholic teacher organisations in particular with CATSC. A strong case can still be made for a printed journal that will allow for an interrogation of, or reflection on, published articles, many of which have been reproduced from well prepared and respected contributions at conferences. However, various factors, less advertising revenue, increased printing and distribution costs, the role of the internet, e-communications and the social media must now throw into doubt the ability of the Catholic educational community to maintain such a venture.
The role of voluntary contributions has changed significantly. Many of those on whom the editorial team has relied in previous years are approaching their own sell-by date. Over the last twenty years the educational architecture has completely changed. Political opinion trumps evidence based research and experience; bribery and coercion are used to impose policy; educational law has fallen into abeyance; independence and entrepreneurship is prized over co-operation; private sponsorship is encouraged to fill funding gaps; parents begin to see themselves as customers not partners. Education is increasingly interpreted as the route to better employment rather than the development of the whole person, a nonnegotiable principle of Christian education.
The flow of voluntary activity by individuals in the pressurised school environment, supported by post-retirement contributions from experienced professional Catholic educators has diminished. If dedicated contributing evangelisers are not emerging, as the evidence from CATSC and other bodies seems to suggest, then the gauntlet thrown down by Archbishop McMahon and the exhortation of Pope Francis will have fallen on stony ground.
It is the wish of all those associated with this journal that the future of our Catholic schools is supported by a renewed vision and sense of purpose. If that results in a decision that the written word has indeed lost its power and place, so be it. If the journal is to continue, a freshness of outlook and support is essential. We are open to offers and will support the wider re-envisioning.
Unlike the Lindsey Report which emerged at a time of great optimism, a renewed vision fashioned in a less appealing climate of uncertainty will be closer to the Easter message of finding renewed strength in our weakness, power in powerlessness.
A last word to Pope Francis:
"Spirit evangelisers … pray and work. Mystical notions without a solid social missionary outreach are of no help to evangelisation, nor are dissertations or social or pastoral practices which lack a spirituality which can change hearts.
Evangelii Gaudium (262)