Catholic closures would 'stoke sectarianism'

27th May 2011 at 01:00
Argument against denominational schools may fuel further animosity, claims historian

Closing Catholic schools would be the "best formula" for stoking further sectarian animosity in Scotland, according to a leading historian.

Professor Tom Devine of Edinburgh University said an "anti-Catholic schools attitude" was harming parts of the Scottish community.

Director of the Scottish Centre of Diaspora Studies and a prominent commentator on anti-Catholic discrimination, Professor Devine cited a 2003 national newspaper poll which found that 48 per cent of 1,030 Scots questioned favoured scrapping denominational schools.

The fact that more than half of married Catholics aged 25-34 in Scotland were married to non-Catholics meant it could not be said that the school experience "ghettoises" children, he said.

Professor Devine was speaking at "Sectarianism in Scotland: Myth or Reality?", a public seminar held this week at Edinburgh University, prompted by the recent flare-up of football-related sectarian incidents. The dominance of denominational schools as a topic of debate highlighted the extent to which faith-based education remained a burning issue in Scotland.

The discussion included contributions from historian Owen Dudley Edwards, sports management expert John Kelly and sociologist Michael Rosie.

Dr Rosie, senior lecturer in sociology at the university, said he had initially been against Catholic schools, but had been convinced of the positive contribution they made to education.

"Catholic schools work - they are a system of excellence," he said. Referring to the 1918 Education (Scotland) Act, which allowed separate Catholic schools to be run within the Scottish education system, he asked: "Do we need to extend that settlement to include Scottish Muslims or even Highland Calvinists?"

Scotland was not yet at the stage as a nation, however, where it could have a "grown-up debate" about religion-based schools, he said.

Dr Kelly, lecturer in sport and recreation business management at Edinburgh, agreed that it should not only be Catholics who had a right to a religious education.

Many non-denominational schools were "confused", resulting in a "bland secularism" being offered to youngsters who were emerging from particular religious traditions, said journalist Joyce McMillan, who chaired the session.

Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, told TESS that, compared with when he was a child, Catholic schools were now much more integrated with the community and had a more mixed cohort of pupils.

"Parents are not simply enrolling their children in these schools because of a slavish devotion to Rome - they actually see the real benefits of a Catholic education," he said.

Earlier this month, the Scottish Legal Action Group called for an end to state funding of denominational schools, claiming they create and perpetuate religious discrimination, and that the move would help curb sectarianism.

chris.small@tes.co.uk.

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