Catholic schools 'purge'

11th May 2007 at 01:00
Academic warns that the church faces a 'very messy' battle to ward off the forces of secularism.

CATHOLIC TEACHERS must prepare for a battle against powerful forces that would "purge" the public sector of denominational schools, says a world-renowned philosopher.

John Haldane, professor of philosophy at St Andrew's University, made his dramatic claim at the annual conference of the Catholic Headteachers'

Association of Scotland last week. He said an increasing emphasis on secularism among intellectuals would "trickle" through society over the next 15 years. "Some of the most powerful forces are really quite hostile to Catholic education," he said.

Professor Haldane argued that there was already a "quite determined effort to purge the public space" of Catholic education, because it was "incompatible with a new ideal of public virtue".

He added: "I am by no means optimistic about the future of Catholic education. One may see the battle of Catholic education becoming very, very messy."

Professor Haldane drew a parallel with the reign of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. More than 16 years after she left office, he believes the Thatcher government's emphasis on economics and free market principles has had a profound - and largely undesirable - effect on present-day schools.

He said he had little faith in politicians' ability to resist threats to Catholic education, stressing that the Green Party's election manifesto called into question the future of faith schools and some Scottish Nationalist and Labour MSPs also questioned their right to exist. "The future of Scotland is not safe with Scotland's politicians," said the professor.

Instead, he said it was up to Catholic schools themselves to safeguard their future, by proving themselves as "shining examples" of high-quality education and "living embodiments of educational philosophy".

Despite his pessimistic message, he urged heads to regard the challenge of secularism as something that would make Catholic education stronger. "I think there will be a strengthening of the faith - conditions of adversity are often highly advantageous and, indeed, to be welcomed," he said.

Professor Haldane struck a more upbeat note when he turned his focus across the Atlantic. Catholic education in the United States, he said, was flourishing in so-called parochial schools. Parents and local communities played a central role in the running of such schools, and Catholic education was available for "anyone who wants it".

His four children attended parochial schools in the States.

Catholic heads get the message p4

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