CES News (125)
STATEMENT FROM ASSOCIATION OF CHURCH COLLEGE TRUSTS ON SUPPORT FOR TRAINING TO TEACH RE IN 2013
Training to teach Religious Education in 2013:
Candidates can train to teach Religious Education (RE) through a PGCE course in 28 universities in England, 2 in Wales and 2 in Scotland. Although the government no longer provides a bursary for RE, there are other sources of support. For 2013-14, trainees in secondary RE could be eligible to apply to one of the Church College Trusts for a grant towards course expenses or living expenses. Candidates can check www.cstg.org.uk/acct for details of the trusts and foundations to which they can apply.
Educating children and young people with a sound understanding of Church teaching on relationships, sexual morality, love, marriage and family life remains one of the most challenging issues for any Catholic school. Problems arise: How we do we speak to children in their own language and culture but avoid reinforcing it? Beyond the rules and regulations, what exactly is the Church teaching? How am I supposed to teach it if my own life and values don’t live up to the ideal?
It was within this environment six years ago that Ten Ten Theatre – an award-winning Catholic theatre company – began devising, writing and producing a programme of Catholic Sex and Relationship Education which has now been established in hundreds of primary schools, secondary schools and parishes throughout the UK.
We take our inspiration from Blessed John Paul II’s teaching known as The Theology of the Body. It has been our task over the last few years to identify some of the core values of the teaching and write accessible, contemporary stories to explore these ideas. Karol Wojtyla himself was a keen actor and dramatist who believed passionately in the power of story and character to examine the human person. At Ten Ten we aim to do the same, encouraging our children and young people to reflect on their own lives and experiences in order to understand more deeply their Call to Love.
So, for example, the play “Chased” for the 13-14 age group follows the story of Scott and Carly who are so confused by the world they inhabit – pressure from friends, influence of the media, physical development – that they almost lose sight of their core dignity. And yet through the story they begin to understand the deepest longings of the heart: to be honourable, to be cherished, to be loved and to love as Christ loves. By taking the characters on this journey, and following it up with discussion, sharing, reflection and prayer, the young people understand what it means to be “in” the world but not “of” the world.
What about primary school children? How can we promote these values without corrupting children with sexual imagery and inappropriate information?
One example is “The Gift”, a lovely play for 7-9 year-olds. It tells the story of twins Harry and Kate who learn about the preciousness of gifts: Kate’s treasured musical box, given to her by her Auntie who passed away, is accidentally smashed to pieces by Harry. Harry doesn’t understand why Kate is so upset. “After all,” he says, “you can get another one from the pound shop… for a pound!” Through the story, both Harry and Kate (and the children watching) learn about the true value of gifts, what it means to make a gift of yourself and the importance of forgiveness. These are precisely the same values we promote through the play “Chased” but at an age-appropriate level.
In the follow-up workshop to “The Gift”, the actors ask the children to think more deeply about the best gift they have ever been given, who gave it to them and why is it so special. Sometimes the responses are material: Playstations and puppies are always very popular. Other responses tell of something deeper: my life or my baby brother. However, a few weeks ago at a school in Merseyside, one particular response really touched us.
“What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?” we asked.
“My mum,” said the boy.
“And why is she so special?”
“Because she adopted me and without her I wouldn't have been brought up happy,” said the boy.
The boy’s mother, in fact, also taught at the school. Later that day, when she was told what her adopted son had said, she crumbled into tears.
I can understand why. This woman has likely given her entire life as a gift to the boy, making a decision to love him, protect him and care for him with all of her heart. Surely this is one of the greatest gifts that a person could choose to give. And yet it is a gift that people throughout the world make moment after moment, day after day. Now, as a result of the visit of Ten Ten, this particular mother knew that her seven-year-old adopted son valued and appreciated the great sacrifice she has made.
Mr Paul Barber, currently the Director of Education for the Diocese of Westminster has been appointed as the new Director of the Catholic Education Service.
Commenting on the appointment, Bishop Malcolm McMahon, Chairman of the Bishops’ Conference Department for Education and Formation, and the Chair of the Catholic Education Service, said: ‘I am delighted that Paul Barber has accepted the appointment of Director of the Catholic Education Service. He will bring to the post his considerable experience and a proven track record of commitment to the furtherance of the Church’s vision for Catholic education.’
Mr Barber will take over after Easter 2013 from Monsignor Marcus Stock who has been the Acting‐Director of the Catholic Education Service since November 2011.
Paul Barber MA (Cantab), MA (Canon Law), JCL
Paul Barber is the Director of Education for the Diocese of Westminster, a post he has held since 2003.
Paul read Law at Jesus College, Cambridge, won an Exhibition to the Middle Temple and was called to the Bar in 1992. He taught law at Sussex University, King’s College, London and Westminster University, where he was also a Visiting Fellow. He has studied canon law at Cardiff, Heythrop College (MA with distinction) and Louvain (JCL summa cum laude) where he is currently undertaking a doctorate on temporal goods in the Church in England and Wales.
Paul served as the national Legal Officer for the Catholic Education Service for five years before moving to the Diocese of Westminster. He is a committee member both of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland and the Ecclesiastical Law Society, and a member of the Editorial Board of the Christian Law Review “Law and Justice”. He is frequently involved in legislation policy at national and European level, and is a member of the Legal Affairs Commission of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union. His current research interests include the canon law of education, jurisdiction and comparative canon law.
Each year the Catholic Education Service conducts a Census of every Catholic school and college in England and Wales. The data collected includes Catholicity and ethnicity of staff and pupils, staff qualifications, take-up of free school meals and data on RE teaching. In 2012 the response rate was nearly 98%, including both maintained and independent schools.
The majority of schools complete the Census using SIMS, a Management Information System (MIS). SIMS answers 80% of the Census questions automatically and therefore ensures a high degree of accuracy. Schools that do not use SIMS complete an Excel spreadsheet. The completed Census returns are processed by the CES who produce spreadsheet reports and raw data that are used by the CES the diocesan education offices.
In 2007, in response to requests that the CES Census data be made more widely available, the first Digest of Census Data for Catholic Schools and Colleges was published. The digest contains most of the summary data that is sent to the dioceses, presented in tables and graphs. However, it goes much further, by providing comparisons with national data and also by including additional data not included in the Census, specifically graphs representing information from the Income Deprivation Affecting Children (IDACI) index. It is now possible to identify trends in the data since 2007 and each year the digest includes comparisons with figures from previous years.
In addition to the digest, the CES also produces a Key Facts card the size of a bookmark. This is popular with some politicians and journalists who need access to recent figures on Catholic education in an overview format. The 2012 Key Facts card shows that, on the 2012 Census day there were 2166 Catholic schools in England, educating 808,207 pupils and employing 45,607 teachers. The CES Census data, when supplemented with other, value-added data, shows the quality of education that Catholic pupils are receiving. For example, 75% of English Catholic primary schools have Ofsted grades of good or outstanding, compared with 64% nationally. At GCSE, Catholic schools outperform the national average English and Maths SATs scores by 6%.
The Census gives the CES the authority to work with the Department for Education and Catholic MPs, Peers and Welsh Assembly members, Unions and other organisations with vested interest in Catholic schools and colleges. For example, to be able to quote figures from the 2012 Census which state that 34% of pupils in English Catholic maintained schools are from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared to 28% nationally, helps to argue against the charge that Catholic schools are ethnically selective.
Despite the evidence of the data, it is sometimes unwise to quote the results without looking at the broader picture. For instance, figures for take-up of free school meals suggest that there are fewer pupils in Catholic schools who are in receipt of free school meals than there are in all schools nationally (free school meals are available to children from parents who are working under 16 hours a week or are earning less than £16,190 a year). However, there is evidence to suggest that, although they are entitled to free school meals, some ethnic groups with a large representation in Catholic schools, are unwilling to take up their entitlement. The CES is looking to conduct further research using IDACI data to obtain an accurate measure of hardship in Catholic schools.
Over the past three years there has been a very gradual decline in the percentage of Catholic pupils in Catholic schools, particularly in secondary schools. Again, the reasons cannot be taken at face value and require further analysis. The rising pupil population in Catholic schools show that the quality of teaching and results in Catholic schools are attracting larger number of pupils from a range of faith and non-faith backgrounds, with raw figures of numbers of Catholic pupils remaining relatively constant. However, this statistic will require constant monitoring in future Census analysis as the CES remains concerned over the withdrawal of free school transport by many local authorities and the financial implications for many Catholic parents who wish to send their children to Catholic schools.
Whatever interpretations may be put on the Census data, the key facts speak for themselves: more children are being educated in Catholic schools and are achieving results that compete with the best schools nationally.
The 2012 Census digest will be available on the CES website (catholiceducation.org.uk).
Robert Rushworth is the Data Manager and Census Coordinator for the Catholic Education Service
Sharing Sunday’s Gospel
The Wednesday Word is a 21st Century mission for Catholic primary schools, and a simple mid-week habit of prayer and reflection on the Word of God for parishioners and Catholic school families. Linked to the celebration of Sunday Mass, this is a new way to share the Gospel and the teaching of the Catholic Church, rooting the partnership between home, school and parish in the Word of God.
THERE ARE TWO VERSIONS OF THE WEDNESDAY WORD LEAFLET:
The Primary School version and the Parish version.
In support of the New Evangelisation, the President of the Bishops’ Conference in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, has endorsed The Wednesday Word: a new and lively, mid-week (Wednesday) contact between the Church and primary school families. The enthusiasm of so many Catholic headteachers, school governors, RE coordinators, teachers and parish priests around the country to share the Word of God in this new way has been overwhelming – it’s ‘Good News’ for families.
‘GOOD NEWS’ FOR FAMILY FAITH
The best and most memorable stories in life are true. They are usually about some significant happening that has made a big difference in a person's life. The Wednesday Word mission (to send God’s Word into primary school family homes each week) started through a Catholic school family’s awakening and growth in faith - through reading the gospels together. Dannie (a married father of 3 children) was a lapsed Catholic for many years. He rediscovered his faith and returned to the Church after being encouraged to read the gospels. Over time, wanting to share what he had found with his family, he started to read the gospel with his wife and children too. Together they talked about the gospel’s meaning and relevance for their lives together. This special ‘Gospel Family Time’ proved to be a great way for the family to discuss faith and many other aspects of their lives - deepening their relationship with Christ, their local parish church and, indeed, strengthening their family relationships.
SCHOOL MISSION - SOWING SEEDS
Evangelisation for school parents:putting the Word of God, each week, into the home of every child in a Catholic primary school From very small beginnings, The Wednesday Word primary school resource developed.
Primarily, The Wednesday Word is an agent for the New Evangelisation, gently informing non-churchgoing parents about the ‘Good News’ and the relevance of the Christian faith. With its focus on the Sunday Gospel, this primary school resource is an attractive and colourful double-sided A4 leaflet which is designed to sow the seeds of God's Word; especially among the majority of parents who do not take their children to church. Statistics tell us this can be as high as 80% or above in many schools. The children receive the primary school version of The Wednesday Word, as a gift, in school each week for them to carry into the family home to read with their parents. In this way the Word is sent out by the school, just as (in the Parable) the Sower sends out the Seed, and so The Wednesday Word makes the Word of God present in thousands of school family homes each week, creating a new and powerful opportunity for the evangelisation of school parents.
GOSPEL FAMILY TIME CUSTOM
A new family habit of prayer and reflection based on the Sunday Gospel.
It is the parents who are the primary educators in their children's faith and The Wednesday Word helps them in this role, and also acts as a regular reminder of and invitation to Church. The resource also seeks to evangelise through a special ‘Gospel Family Time’ section on the back page. We suggest a particular day for ‘Gospel Family Time’ to help parents connect the name of the resource with the day on which they receive it from school (Wednesday). Since most of us are creatures of habit, nominating the same day each week helps families develop a new family custom of mid-week prayer. Moreover, Wednesday is the day which the Catholic Church dedicates to St Joseph, who is the Patron Saint of Families and Protector of the Church.
PARISHIONERS PRAYER CUSTOM
Forming hearts and minds to hear and understand the Word of God on Sunday
The success of the school mission is supported through parish prayer. The Parish version of The Wednesday Word is available free-of-charge on The Wednesday Word website (www.wednesdayword.org). This is a black and white resource which is designed for parish priests to download and print on the parish bulletin (or as a stand-alone leaflet) each week. It is offered as a gift for all parishioners to take home to be prayed on the following Wednesday, either individually or with other family members at home, or in small groups in the parish or the home. With its focus on the following Sunday’s Gospel, the Parish version invites all adult parishioners to encounter Christ regularly through this new Wednesday habit of prayer and reflection on the Word of God. This is a fruitful way to prepare for the hearing of the gospel at the following Sunday Mass. Moreover, it encourages parishioners to support the school mission by praying for (and in solidarity with) the families of our primary schools, thereby enhancing the spiritual communion between home, school and parish.
STRENGTHENING THE HOME, SCHOOL & PARISH PARTNERSHIP
When schools, parents and parishes work together, they deliver the best possible start for the faith-life of the children. A deep spiritual communion, based on the Word of God, between parishioners and school families on the same day each week will help build up the Body of Christ in school and in church and in the home. For more information please see: www.wednesdayword.org
‘May the choirs of angels come to greet you. May they speed you to paradise.’ A small group of pupils from years 5 and 6 of St Laurence’s Primary School, Cambridge, sang the gentle response, beautifully led by their headteacher cantor. They were helping the congregation of relatives and friends in St John the Baptist Cathedral, Norwich, bid a loving farewell to Fr Ben Grist, whom they had known during his student placement. Fr Ben had recently received the gift of ordination at the end of the fourth year of his studies, as he moved through the final stages of cancer.
Two weeks earlier, the same Cathedral, full to overflowing, had been the venue for a great celebration by the Diocese of East Anglia of the opening of the Year of Faith. At the end of Mass, people from across the Diocese watched as representatives from all the Catholic schools came forward to accept gifts of the Catechism and learning resources.
The presence of pupils at these celebrations demonstrated some of the ways in which our schools proclaim the gospel. It showed the determination, on the part of the staff of our schools, to remain true to their mission of educating children and young people in faith and helping them to understand the way in which that faith is celebrated. Long liturgies in cathedrals may not be the most accessible experience even for adults who are familiar with the ‘language’ of faith, but the children’s conduct showed that their teachers had prepared them carefully.
It also made evident the support which is often given to schools by the clergy. The children and young people were provided with all the facilities they needed, and it was clear that much thought had been given to what would be helpful to them. At the celebration for the opening of the Year of Faith, the Diocesan Administrator, Fr David Bagstaff, preached a homily which engaged their interest while still giving the adults plenty of food for thought. At the end of the celebration, the children processed out before the rest of the congregation, ensuring they were able to get to a different kind of food without delay!
The presence of the children at Fr Ben’s funeral highlighted the way in which Catholic schools and colleges develop, from the earliest years, the recognition of death as not only a time of loss and sadness, but also of joy for the person who is experiencing transformation into risen life. Making a commitment to this perspective on death is not easy in a society where belief in eternal life is uncertain. The comment of a monk of Ampleforth, that where all schools prepare their pupils for life, ‘we prepare them for death’, brings us up sharply against a truth which to many in our culture appears to be a paradox.
Our schools and colleges stand at the interface of deeply committed faith and a society and culture which finds it increasingly difficult to acknowledge the reality of God. They have to play the game according to the rules of government, Department for Education, Ofsted and Local Authorities, and, as we would expect, achieve the highest standards of professionalism in teaching and learning and standards of achievement. But through all of this, they do not forget the fundamental reason for their existence – through the education of children and young people, to proclaim the gospel, in all its challenge and joy.
There are no other countries where the system of education offers the Catholic community comparable opportunities for evangelisation. Our schools form an integral part of our national education system, and we can use that position to engage with, challenge, influence and support society itself. As a Church, we can sometimes overlook this and assume our business is the parish. But as Pope Benedict explained with such clarity in his address in Westminster Hall, ‘the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilisation.’ The existence of our schools and colleges, and their commitment to proclaiming the gospel, provide a superb foundation and catalyst for this dialogue.
Dr Dilys Wadman DSG is the former Director of Education for Archdiocese of Southwark
Today the Catholic Education Service launched its Digest of 2012 Census Data for Schools and Colleges. The data shows the prominent role of Catholic education in England and Wales with 2257 Catholic schools and colleges educating 838,756 pupils and employing 52,436 Teachers and 39,102 support staff.
The finding build upon previous year’s census which asks all Catholic schools and colleges in England and Wales to provide data on the number, Catholicity and social background of their pupils and teachers.
The data shows a number of positives:
•20 % of pupils at Catholic secondary schools live in the most deprived areas (17% nationally).
•Catholic schools are more ethnically diverse than national averages (33.5% of Catholic primary school pupils are from ethnic minority backgrounds compared with 27.6% nationally.)
•The Catholicity of both the pupil and teacher population has risen slightly from previous years with 71% of pupils and 55.6% of teachers at Catholic schools stated as Catholic.
Additional research into school performance continues to show that Catholic schools and colleges are outperforming national averages.
•74.7% of Catholic primary schools have Ofsted grades of good or outstanding (64% nationally)
•At age 11, Catholic schools outperform national average English and Maths SATs scores by 6%
•At GCSE, Catholic schools outperform the national average by 4.9%
Bishop Malcolm McMahon OP, Chairman of the Catholic Education Service said “We are very pleased to welcome these figures which show the enormous and important contribution that Catholic education makes to the common good of our society. The strength of our Catholic sector is based upon the respect for the individual, as a Child of God. Our Catholic schools continue to be a reflection of the diverse communities which we serve.”
Further data on Catholic education can be found in CES’s Digest of 2012 Census Data for Schools and Colleges available at www.catholiceducation.org.uk. (The Census return rate from Catholic schools and colleges was 98%).
Performance statics for Catholic Education can be found in the Key Facts 2012 available at www.catholiceducation.org.uk
Preparing for university is proving to be an extremely exciting time. My A-level study stretched me to the limits of my capabilities, learning as much about Nuclear Physics as I did about the importance of discipline, focus and endurance. It's now very easy, only a few months on, to dismiss the mammoth challenge they presented thinking 'they weren't really that difficult'. Then the consecutive string of all night revision sessions and seeing the library staff more than I did my brothers and sisters springs delightfully back to memory. I am now pleased to have successfully completed them (more, importantly dispelled them from my life for good) and looking forward to commencing undergraduate study in Politics and Sociology at The University of Bristol.
I can truly feel the transition into young adulthood, being constantly reminded of the multiple tasks I am encouraged to complete independently. From completing application forms for accommodation and financial support to buying bedding sets and crockery. Having also spent the summer working part-time at the Stratford Westfield shopping centre and on the Olympic park, my exposure to responsibility has been considerably heightened. This has all set the context in preparing for 'real' adulthood and building my character for the future that lies ahead.
However, my most distinct period of personal development lies in the 7 years I spent at Our Lady's Convent High School in Hackney. An area amazingly rich in diversity coupled with a variety of socio-economic difficulties provided a very interesting setting for secondary education. Founded on the values of the Servite order, the importance of service is treasured as an essential Catholic teaching. We learnt through practical action, organising trips to local residential homes at Christmas to deliver decorated hampers, becoming involved in social campaigns and being constantly encouraged to be active stewards within our community. During my time at Our Lady's, it became apparent how we show our faith and love for God through the relationships we keep with our neighbours and the efforts we make to improve our universal community. A verse I am sure to never to forget comes from the book of James which makes the point that faith without works is dead. I was among a delegation from my school to be invited to a conference hosted by Harvard University, for our participation in a variety of campaigns pioneered by Citizens UK to present this very message.
Serving my school community as Head Girl was the culmination of years of extra-curricular involvement within the school. I felt exceedingly privileged to be able to represent the student body and lead the school council working towards the school's ongoing development towards improved excellence. All my experiences during these crucially formative years are surely guaranteed to place me in good stead at university and in my further endeavours. I now look upon my younger sister with gleaming eyes as she begins her journey at Our Lady's in year 7, seeing in her what I hope most saw in me. A bright young lady that's full of potential, with a future of endless possibilities.
The government’s agenda for change in education includes the option for schools of any persuasion to consider conversion to academy status (an ‘academy’ is a state funded independent school). Indeed, government policy is openly one of encouraging conversion; they would like to see ‘academies as the norm’. What we desire as guardians of Catholic schools is to ensure that our schools offer the best education possible to our young people so ‘that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10). This means offering them a high quality academic, personal, social, physical, spiritual and moral education built on the solid foundation of the teachings and practice of the Catholic faith. What we want is to support parents in educating our young people so that they have every opportunity to flourish as confident and courageous Catholics; to become those who know how to give something back, to work for the common good.
So, can these ‘policies’ or ‘ideals’ fit together? There is not an easy answer to this. Some would say that they can and others that they can’t. Here in the Diocese of Nottingham, we liaise with twelve Local Authorities and, on the whole, these have been successful partnerships that have been of benefit to our schools over the years. It is also true to say that there have been some difficulties, particularly in relation to funding formulas, provision (or not) of school transport, and so on. Local Authority (L.A.) policy on education and, specifically on academy conversion, varies widely even within our diocese. The picture across the country as a whole is even more variable. In some areas there is no longer a School Support Service within the L.A. leaving schools to buy services from an increasingly expanding educational marketplace. All this means that a single response, or implementation of a single model for Catholic schools nationally is no longer appropriate or even possible. New ways of thinking about how schools operate and work together and how they are supported to improve need to be carefully developed and considered taking into account these local variations. It goes without saying that, the core principles for Catholic education will always be shared and central to the mission of our diocesan education services and schools. Whether or not a school is Voluntary-Aided, Independent or an Academy is not the driving force, “…the life of faith needs to be the driving force… so that the Church’s mission may be served effectively, and the young people may discover the joy of entering into Christ’s ‘being for others’ (Spe Salvi, 28).” (Pope Benedict XVI, St. Mary’s College, Twickenham, September 2010).
In the Diocese of Nottingham, following a great deal of dialogue with Headteachers and governors, undertaken by its Education Service, the Trustees took the decision to embrace the academy programme and to give their consent for schools to convert to academy status as part of multi-academy trusts. Already our schools are organised into what we know as ‘families of schools.’ That is, a secondary school and its partner primary schools. These families of schools vary in size from three to seven schools. Historically, the effectiveness of the informal collaboration between these groups of schools has been variable. Some families of schools have developed excellent collaborative practice, meeting together regularly, for example, to plan joint teacher training days for staff, often on religious or spiritual formation and education, and so on. Other families of schools have only been able to meet rarely and have not really established a consistent pattern of collaboration. Coming together to form what is a single legal entity as a Catholic multi-Academy Trust gives our schools a chance to crystallise these partnerships creating strategic opportunities to develop and learn together so that all may flourish; the stronger supporting the weaker, so that no school is left behind.
In one of our first Catholic Academy Trusts, formed in September 2011, the Directors (Governors) as employers, have appointed some key personnel to work across the family of schools: a Lay Chaplain; a School Social Worker from one of our partner organisations ‘Faith in Families’ (formerly the Catholic Children’s Society) to offer support to children in vulnerable families and an Educational Welfare Officer, as the L.A. no longer provides one. The advantages of these arrangements for the children and families speak for themselves in terms of continuity – the Chaplain, the EWO, the Family Support Worker, will all be available to families as the young people move through the system from 3 to 18 years of age. Opportunities for the creation of some shared administration and finance staffing structures are also being explored by some of our multi-academy trusts as are the possibilities of appointment of specialist teaching and support staff – modern foreign languages, special educational needs, specialist sport and music teachers, being the most obvious examples.
The Diocesan Education Service (DES) continues to support all its schools and academies with advice on religious education, collective worship, governance, admissions, Section 48 Inspection, and so on. The DES is also exploring new ways of supporting its schools and academies, for example , recently developing a pilot project with Church Marketplace and a group of School Business Managers with a view to brokering (not providing) services specifically suited to Catholic schools and academies, e.g. Human Resources advice and support.
Currently there are eight Catholic Academy Trusts in the Diocese of Nottingham formed by 31 academies. On October 1st, a further seven schools will convert bringing the total number of academies to 38; this represents 45% of our schools. Our view is that, by coming together to form Catholic Academy Trusts, our schools will be a in a stronger position to face the challenges of an uncertain and continually changing future.
The Anscombe Bioethics Centre (formally called the Linacre Centre) was founded in 1977 by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. Our focus is on healthcare ethics, and we approach this in a number of ways. We respond to consultations. We engage in research into new and challenging ethical questions. We provide healthcare practitioners and the public with a Catholic perspective on ethical issues, new and old.
Attitudes of professionals, policy-makers and the public are shaped by education and the school curriculum covers bioethical issues such as abortion and euthanasia. Hence, the Centre has embarked on a project specifically to support Catholic education in relation to ethics. This project will include the publication of a book on the ethos of a Catholic School and also a conference in Oxford taking place later this month.
The topic of ‘ethos’ is one that emerged from our work with teachers. Often we would be invited to a school to speak on a particular topic, such as the ethics of stem cell research. However, in discussion we frequently found that the questions became much broader: Was the Church opposed to scientific progress? Had she not been opposed to science in the past? Is morality ultimately subjective? How can the Church require people to agree with her moral teaching? Is teaching the truth of Catholic belief just indoctrination? These questions relate to fundamental questions of worldview: questions not just of ethics but of ethos.
In the context of the cultural diversity of British society, Catholics often find themselves having to justify the continued existence of Catholic Schools. This question is not only posed by prominent atheists but also by Christians, including some Catholics. What are Catholic Schools for?
Before answering this question it is worth asking another, perhaps overlooked question: What is any school for? Parents, pupils, teachers, universities, potential employers, politicians all look to schools to achieve different things: to deliver qualifications, to impart skills, to prepare pupils for further studies or employment or both. Schools also keep children off the streets and enable parents to work - a function that becomes very obvious during the school holidays.
Schools fulfil many purposes but their primary aim is, or ought to be, to educate. A school is a place of learning not only about this or that but learning aimed at becoming a certain kind of person: a person who can flourish in society, an ethical person. Understood in this way, the task of education is essentially concerned with ethics, with helping pupils learn what it is to think and feel and act in an ethical way. This is not just done through study; the character and atmosphere of the school also have a strong role to play.
The point of Catholic schools, therefore, is to educate children according to a Catholic understanding of ethics - a Catholic understanding of what it is to flourish as a human being. But this leads to another question. Is there any such thing as a Catholic understanding of ethics? Surely if an action is good or bad then it is good or bad for everyone, not just for Catholics. However, even if this is true (and it needs some qualification) it is clear that not everyone agrees about what is good or bad. The Catholic Church draws on a particular tradition of ethical wisdom, and it is this ethical wisdom that Catholic schools exist to foster.
The Anscombe Centre conference on Tuesday 30th October (10am-4pm at St Gregory the Great Catholic School, Oxford OX4 3DR) is an excellent opportunity to think about ethics, science and religion in the curriculum and across the school. Speakers include Fr Andrew Pinsent, Research Director at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, and Fr Tim Gardner OP, a school chaplain and RE teacher who is Department Secretary (Catholic Education and Formation) at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. The day is for teachers, school leadership and others involved in education (such as school governors), and is initially, but not exclusively, geared towards those attached to Catholic Schools. Bookings and the latest updates are available at www.bioethics.org.uk and at goo.gl/Wx29dW or by phone on 01865 610 212.
Prof David Albert Jones is Director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford.