The headteacher of every Catholic school in Wales has written to the First Minister asking him to rethink his Government’s proposed changes to Religious Education.
The headteachers of more than 80 Welsh Catholic schools have signed a joint letter asking the Rt Hon Mark Drakeford MS, to stop the proposed legislation surrounding RE which specifically targets the Catholic ethos of their schools.
With the plans uniquely affecting their schools, the headteachers have taken the unprecedented step of collectively asking for reassurance that it is not the Government’s specific intention to damage Catholic schools.
The Welsh Government plans to expand the scope of traditional RE to ‘Religion Values and Ethics’, removing the academic rigor of the subject and reducing it to an over-simplistic comparison exercise which fails to understand the fundamentals of faith and religion.
The new proposals, published in May, specifically penalise Catholic schools, placing additional and unreasonable legal requirements on them that no other schools have to satisfy, specifically forcing them to teach two separate RE curriculums without any consideration of resourcing impactions this would have for schools.
In their letter, the headteachers state that the proposed changes to RE fail to recognise the heritage and deep connection Religious Education has within church schools, including Catholic schools, which dedicate 10% of curriculum time to the subject.
They go on to say the Welsh Government’s desire to create a so-called ‘neutral values’ curriculum risks moving towards a homogeneous education system which would no longer recognise children’s legal right to pursue a deep knowledge and spiritual understanding of their own faith as well as those of others.
Prior to the proposed legislation, a majority of respondents to the Government’s consultation said they were against the name change of RE and that they supported the continuation of parents’ rights to withdraw their children from RE. On both of these, the Welsh Government have ignored popular opinion.
Paul Barber, Director of the Catholic Education Service, which represents Catholic schools in Wales, commented: “I hope this letter from all of the headteachers makes the Welsh Government realise the overwhelming strength of feeling against these proposals to the Catholic community. They strike at the very identity of Catholic schools and at the heart of the principle that that parents, and not the State, are the primary and principal educators of their children.”
Notes to Editors
- The full letter can be read here
- The Catholic Church is Wales comprises of three dioceses; the Diocese of Wrexham, the Diocese of Menevia and the Archdiocese of Cardiff. Collectively they have an estimated Catholic population of over 200,000 people
- There are 84 Catholic schools in Wales, all of which are Voluntary Aided Schools
- Welsh Catholic schools educate almost 28,000 pupils and employ more than 1500 teachers
- 54% of pupils in Welsh Catholic schools are of the Catholic faith
- On 5 May 2020, The Welsh Government opened its ‘Curriculum for Wales: Religion, values and ethics’ consultation. This consultation followed on from a previous consultation (entitled ‘Ensuring Access to the Full Curriculum’) which asked respondents to comment on a number of proposals, including a change of name for Religious Education and the intention to rescind the parental right of withdrawal from the subject in the new curriculum.
- Many teachers and leaders in Catholic schools across Wales responded to the Ensuring Access to the Full Curriculum consultation to oppose the changes, viewing it as an assault on parental rights and on the academic rigour of Religious Education in Catholic schools
- According to the Welsh Government’s analysis of the Ensuring Access to the Full Curriculum consultation, opposition to its proposals came from across the whole sector https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/consultations/2020-01/full-report-ensuring-access-to-the-full-curriculum.pdf
- Despite fervent opposition the Welsh Government has moved to introduce these changes to rename Religious Education to Religion, Values and Ethics in the new curriculum
- Serious concerns were also raised by parents and teachers about the removal of the parental right of withdrawal for RE as it infringed on the core Catholic belief that parents are the primary educators and the legal right of children to receive an upbringing in their faith
- The Welsh Government intends to introduce a Curriculum and Assessment Bill in order to implement these changes
- Concerns have also been raised over the lack of due process and transparency as the Government may publish the Bill before it considers responses to the RVE consultation
- At the time of writing, the CES understands that the Government is not minded to postpone the legislation, regardless of the unforeseen impact of the Covid-19 crisis on schools
Paul Barber, Director of the Catholic Education Service commented: “Catholic schools have a particular care for the poorest and most vulnerable in society, and are rightly concerned about the effects of a prolonged absence from school for these and other children. Many Catholic schools are therefore already planning for opening in a safe and sustainable manner as soon as conditions allow it.
“The COVID-19 crisis has presented schools with an unprecedented challenge and in Catholic schools, school leaders, teachers and support staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty. Any phased reopening must place the safety, health and well-being of pupils and staff as its number one priority and should be done in close collaboration with dioceses and local authorities.
“In this respect, schools must be provided with clear information, proper support and enough time to plan and make thorough risk assessments, before they make the final decision to re-open. The CES remains committed to working with the Government to ensure that these key elements of support are put in place for dioceses and governing bodies.
“With pupils having missed a significant part of the school year, parents need to know that, as we slowly return to some semblance of normality, Catholic schools will be able to provide the pastoral, educational and spiritual support that are so needed in these challenging times.”
To all teachers, parents, support staff, governors and pupils in Catholic schools
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In what has been arguably one of the most challenging periods of time in a generation, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all who are working in Catholic education.
True to their vocation, the leaders, teachers and support staff in our Catholic schools and colleges have worked selflessly and outstandingly, often at great personal cost and with potential risks to themselves and their families. By keeping schools and colleges open for vulnerable pupils and children of key workers, providing home-learning resources, teaching lessons remotely, maintaining the spiritual and pastoral care of pupils, keeping in touch with families and so much more, our education workforce have rendered a great service both to the nation and to their communities in this time of need.
We should pay tribute also to the parents of pupils who, along with all of the day to day challenges they have had to face during this pandemic crisis, have exercised their role as the first educators of their children within their homes. Nevertheless, many parents are worried about the amount of school-time their children have missed and how this will impact on their development and their future.
We know too, that this crisis is disproportionately affecting the disadvantaged. Our Catholic schools have a special mission to care for the poorest and most vulnerable children and young people in society, and they have significantly more pupils from the most deprived backgrounds than other schools. It is critical therefore that every effort is made to enable more pupils to resume their education in school as soon as it is safe to do so.
Recently, the Government announced that it has commenced the very slow process of gradually lifting the restrictions which were implemented to protect the lives of all of our country’s citizens. To assist headteachers and governing bodies with their planning on how to re-admit more of their pupils back to the school premises once conditions allow, the Catholic Education Service has sought to work closely with the Government to ensure that proper support and clear information is given to dioceses, religious orders, multi-academy trusts and schools. Ultimately though, the safety, health and wellbeing of both pupils and staff must be our foremost priority.
Our society will have to live with the legacy of this crisis for many months and years to come but the fortitude and resolve demonstrated by our Catholic schools’ sector during this emergency has been extraordinary and is something of which we can be rightly proud.
As we face the challenges ahead of us, please do continue to pray for our schools and colleges, their leaders, teachers, parents and pupils.
With the assurance of my prayers and every blessing, I remain
Yours in the Lord
The Right Reverend Marcus Stock
Chairman of the Catholic Education Service
Bishop of Leeds
21st May 2020
Catholic Education Service
The God Who Speaks
Lent calendar for children - https://cafod.org.uk/content/download/47780/577402/version/3/CAFOD%20Primary%20Lent%20calendar%202020.pptx
Lent calendar for young people - https://cafod.org.uk/content/download/50643/640647/version/1/Lent%2020%20Calendar%20YP.pptx
Lent 2020 fundraising and prayer resources for primary schools - https://cafod.org.uk/Education/Primary-teaching-resources/Lent
Lent 2020 fundraising and prayer resources for young people - https://cafod.org.uk/Education/Secondary-and-youth-resources/Lent
Lent resources (secondary) - https://missio.org.uk/lent-and-eastertide/
Lent resources (primary through Mission Together) - https://missiontogether.org.uk/lent/
Lenten resources for children https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/liturgical-year/lent/activities-and-resources
Aid to the Church in Need
Youtube video interviewing children from a Catholic school in America on what Lent means to them
The Catholic Education Service has today criticised the Welsh Government’s decision to remove the parental right of withdrawal for Religious Education and Relationships and Sexuality Education, as well as the proposed name change of Religious Education.
The CES expressed dismay with the decision referring to is as a ‘regressive step’ which would undermine ‘parent’s fundamental and inalienable role as the primary educators of their children’.
Hundreds of Catholics parents and teachers responded to the consultation as well as contacted their local Assembly Member about this issue. For the CES, today’s decision represents a complete disregard for the opinions of the Catholic community in Wales.
Full statement below.
Paul Barber, Director of the Catholic Education Service commented: “Today’s announcement from the Welsh Government represents a regressive step in the relationship between parents, schools and the State.
“By removing the parental right of withdrawal, these proposals risk undermining parents’ fundamental and inalienable role as the primary educators of their children.
“Many hundreds of Catholics made representations during the consultation. However, it is clear from today’s announcement that the Welsh Government is content with ignoring the views of the Catholic community.
“The proposed name change of Religious Education is also a step in the wrong direction. It is an unnecessary change which does nothing to improve the academic integrity of RE, but represents a dumbing down of the subject and a weakening of the whole school’s responsibility for instilling values and ethics in its pupils.”
As a religious community we value our partnership with the government in the provision of Catholic education. It is a partnership which has flourished over the last 170 years. The fruit of this partnership is the network of more than 2,200 Catholic schools across England and Wales, making the Church the second-largest provider of education in the country.
This relationship has been a resounding success on a secular as well as a pastoral and spiritual level. Not only are Catholic schools some of the highest achieving in the country, they are also considerably more ethnically diverse and take in significantly more pupils from the poorest households than the national average.
With this profile and record, the future existence of Catholic schools should be uncontroversial. However, we know this is not the case. Nationally, there are a number of organisations campaigning either to end the provision of schools in England which have a religious character or to transform the curriculum in such a way that it would remove the ability of Catholic schools to maintain their specific ethos. It is this ethos which makes our Catholic schools so unique and successful.
So now, more than ever before, we cannot take the future of Catholic schools for granted. With the general election imminent and when political parties are canvassing for our support, it is important that we ask about a political party’s commitment to our community’s precious schools.
It is still vital to remember that whoever forms the next government, whether comprised of a single party or a coalition, will implement a legislative agenda which could have a direct impact on both Catholic education and the curriculum that is taught in Catholic schools. We must be conscious too that some political parties, while holding favourable views on schools with a religious character generally, also hold policies that could damage Catholic education specifically. Therefore, it is vital you get answers on where a political party stands on the following issues.
Core principles It is not sufficient for a Catholic school just to be called “Catholic”. There are core principles which protect their ethos and the distinctive education they provide. Among these are the ability to give priority in the school’s admissions criteria to Catholic children, the bishop’s right to appoint the majority of the school’s governors, the right to reserve the school’s senior leadership posts for Catholics; and the right to teach and inspect Catholic Religious Education.
Religious Education Religious Education lies at the centre of the core curriculum in Catholic schools. Ten per cent of school time is dedicated to the subject and it is an academically rigorous theological discipline. Recently we have seen calls to abolish this and rename it “Worldviews” with a nationally set curriculum. Not only would this change the nature of the subject and reduce its importance, it could also result in the state determining how and what the Church teaches about the Catholic faith in Catholic schools – something that would be totally unacceptable.
Support for school leaders, teachers and staff Our school leaders, teachers and support staff are outstanding in the work they do. We need to ensure that political parties are committed to supporting teachers and the vocation of teaching. We hope that any future government will continue to provide support for the formation of Catholic teachers through continuing professional development and teacher training.
Relationships and Sex Education Catholic education is based on the formation of the whole child. Well-taught and age-appropriate Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) is an important part of this. However, even more important is the right of parents, as the primary educators of their children, to be fully consulted and to maintain their ability to withdraw their children from these lessons. While we are confident that the model curriculum in Catholic schools delivers RSE in accordance with the teachings of the Church and the wishes of parents, the same cannot be said for other schools. Hence for Catholic parents who do not have the option to send their child to a Catholic school, it is vital that this parental right remains in place.
New Catholic schools Since 2010, the Church has had to find space for an additional 50,000 pupils without being able to open new schools. As a community, we need to make sure that political parties remain committed to supporting the opening of new Catholic schools without a restriction on the proportion of Catholic children that they are free to admit.
As a Catholic community, we have provided our schools as part of our commitment to the common good of society and the education of young people in our country. For many years these schools have flourished. Now it is time to speak up for them and do our civic and Catholic duty to ensure that they can continue to flourish for many years to come.
The Rt Rev Marcus Stock
Bishop of Leeds
Chairman of the Catholic Education Service