Catholics want the gospel truth

David Henderson

A new form of religious check on more than 400 Roman Catholic schools, carried out jointly by the local parish and education authority, could be in place within three years. All denominational schools would have to be explicit about how they are delivering the Church's message.

Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, last week told Catholic secondary heads that the inspectorate was currently ducking faith issues in HMIE reports and made no mention of the distinctiveness of denominational schooling.

Mr McGrath warned that the Church had a duty to focus on the distinctive contribution of Catholic education. "Do we do that at present? Does the Church take responsibility for saying our schools are offering something distinctive? The fear I have is that someone will turn round and say, 'Where is the evidence?', and you won't find it in HMIE reports."

Inspectors talked about fair treatment, equality and the contribution of the school chaplains but were reluctant to use the word Catholic. "HMIE reports do not provide us with a clear outline and do not reflect much that is distinctive in Catholic schools," he said.

In private, inspectors gave some feedback but reports failed to highlight the practice of Catholic schools in building gospel values.

Local authority standards and quality reports were no better. "Is the faith life of the school systematically reflected on? Is it part of the agenda? No, it is not," Mr McGrath said.

Some authorities might think it was not their place to comment on such aspects and others "discouraged" schools from including faith dimensions in their development plans. Some learning communities had also been told not to mention faith because other agencies might not share it.

Mr McGrath emphasised that schools and the Church had to prove their distinctiveness. "If we are not distinctive in what we are doing, we have no claim for continuing existence when school rolls are falling and there's rationalisation of buildings," he stated.

A working group led by Neil Roarty, headteacher of Turnbull High, East Dunbartonshire, has been set up to advise on gospel values and create a self-evaluation package. It will illustrate good practice in faith and "consider how a process of visitation of schools might support planning for improvement".

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