Defender of the ethos

11th April 2003 at 01:00
The director of the new Catholic Education Service must harness the Church's energy, says Bishop Joseph Devine

TODAY (Friday) is the closing date for applications for the post of director of the Catholic Education Service (CES), recently advertised in this paper.

The Catholic Church in Scotland has worked for many years towards the creation of this new service, which represents a major achievement for the Catholic Education Commission.

Until now, each diocese has worked to promote our Church's faith mission in distinctive ways, reflecting the particular circumstances which prevail in different parts of the country. In the central belt of Scotland lies the main concentration of state sector Catholic schools, administered by local authorities. Where such schools exist, they attract 90 per cent of the Catholic pupil population, demonstrating the ongoing commitment and support of Catholic parents to their schools. At the same time, our schools continue to enrol children of other faiths and none, who are attracted by the ethos and values of Catholic schools.

In appointing a director of a new Catholic Education Service, the Church in Scotland seeks to focus its efforts in promoting Catholic education by recruiting an educationist who can provide strategic direction for its work throughout the country.

It is, perhaps, necessary to emphasise that the new CES does not replace the Catholic Education Commission whose principal aim is to advise and assist the bishops of Scotland in all matters pertaining to education and to promote development in this field.

An important aspect of the planning associated with instituting the new service has been to delineate its role in relation to other organisations, not least the CEC, but also Catholic bodies such as headteachers'

organisations and diocesan advisers. A further aspect of the new service will be to establish regular contact with the Scottish Executive Education Department, Her Majesty's Inspectors of Education and local authority education departments.

The director will be expected to ensure that the new service becomes a pivotal and authoritative voice whenever the educational or political debate turns to the existence or value of Catholic schools.

A variety of challenges will immediately face the new appointee, among them: the development of religious and moral education; the development and implementation of a communication strategy designed to involve home, school and parish; the engagement of Catholic teachers in faith-based continuing professional development; and the task of assisting diocesan advisers and others at local level with the implementation of these developments.

In recent months the role of Catholic education has been subject to intense scrutiny and questioning by a range of secular voices. On the one hand, we Scots are members of a pluralist society. We show concern for our international neighbours. We accommodate asylum-seekers from other cultures. We have become conscious of the needs of minorities and aim to be tolerant, inclusive and respectful of diversity.

On the other hand, a strand of thinking has developed which opposes diversity of religious expression in the educational field. The proponents of such thinking suggest, without evidence, that the very existence of Catholic schools is a cause of religious intolerance, particularly among the young. This is an argument which is unique to this country. Catholic schools, and schools of other faiths, are widely accepted in other parts of Britain and elsewhere - indeed our present Prime Minister and First Minister are on record as supporters of them.

Our new director must face these challenges head on and ensure that the case for Catholic schools is argued cogently at a time when the re-established Parliament is still young and when many in our political parties have highlighted the positive achievements, ethos and value of Catholic schools. Many of our schools have been in the forefront of developing good practice and have been commended for it. Independent research points unambiguously to the strong academic attainment of our schools when compared with schools with similar social characteristics.

Where appropriate, the director will initiate research into areas of key importance to Catholic education, in order to develop the evidence base for our schools - and to confirm, where appropriate, the above average attainment of our schools in national examinations.

learly, the director must have a sound knowledge of current trends in Catholic education allied to knowledge of current legislation and the political process which governs it. The strategic nature of this post points to someone with a high level of commitment to the values and ethos of our schools and a proven record of development work in the promotion of Catholic education.

The Catholic Church, in the new century, has diverse needs even in a small country like Scotland. The new director must harness the energy and commitment of a wide range of clergy and laity and tailor the work of the service to local needs throughout the land. This will be a major challenge and points up the demanding nature of the post and high quality of individual required to meet the challenge.

The historian T C Smout is credited with the observation that Catholic schools had made the most significant contribution to human rights in Scotland in the 20th century in their role of educating working-class children, moving them on to higher education and enabling social mobility.

The development of the Catholic Education Service is viewed by the Catholic bishops of Scotland as of vital importance if our education system is to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Bishop Joseph Devine is Bishop of Motherwell and President of the Catholic Education Commission.

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