Bishop tipped for higher things;News;News amp; Opinion

5th November 1999 at 00:00
THE RIGHT Reverend Vincent Nichols, perhaps the most influential figure in Catholic education, is not widely known outside the Church.

But, if the twists and turns of Vatican politics move in his favour over the next few weeks, they could turn him into a household name.

Despite his position near the bottom of the episcopal ladder as associate Bishop in north London, the 54-year-old has repeatedly been tipped as one of the favourites to become head of the Catholic Church in England following the death of Cardinal Basil Hume earlier this year.

Bishop Nichols' current role is as chairman of the Bishops' committee on education, and its public mouthpiece the Catholic Education Service (see above).

The service has sparked controversy in recent years with forays into the wider world of education policy, including high-profile criticisms of the use of league tables and inadequate funding for schools in poor areas. But Bishop Nichols prefers to put his emphasis on the Church's role as a guardian of traditional values.

"From the Catholic point of view we are involved in education because we have a vision and beliefs about what life is all about. We want to express that in education," he told The TES.

The bishop himself is the product of a Liverpool grammar school and the English College in Rome.

"We would stand very firmly with those who see education as more than the pursuit of technical competence and economic well-being.

"We have been very pleased that the Government has responded to our concerns about the citizenship curriculum and given a very much more prominent place to marriage and the family. However, we are still very much concerned that the development of citizenship education is not being used as a lever for the moral development of society."

His other priorities for the Catholic Education Service are largely operational.

He stresses the importance of finding more places for Catholic children across the country and of increasing the supply of Catholic teachers to the schools:

"The primary purpose of our schools is to provide education for Catholics but we are very happy to educate pupils from other backgrounds in the process".

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