Faith and frustration vented

13th January 2012 at 00:00

It was strangely fitting that Alex Wood's comment piece ("Time to call for a separation of Church and State in schools", 6 January) was published on the day when Christians celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, which marks the revelation of Christ's birth to the world. I guess that Alex was not in the mood for celebrating the peace and joy of the Christmas season.

It is unfortunate that he chose to cite Northern Ireland's first minister Peter Robinson on the issue of denominational schools, when many political observers have recognised Robinson's desperate attempts to shore up his shaky political position. This is particularly ironic when, in recent times, Scotland's arrangements for the provision of denominational education have been given detailed consideration by government officials in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

In response, let me suggest that references to Alex Salmond's celebration of Scotland's Catholic schools, and to his view that "the record of Catholic schools in Scotland is second to none", might have been more apposite.

Allow me briefly to suggest various reasons why Scotland's provision of denominational education provides evidence of a mature, tolerant democracy.

First, it offers parents a choice of school provision which is otherwise largely limited to those who can afford independent schools. No parent is obliged to choose a Catholic school, but almost 20 per cent of the population makes that choice for positive educational reasons, not because they want to "separate" their children from others. Which politician would wish to remove that option for parents?

Second, we should be heartened by the attention given by Catholic schools to promoting values such as wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity, which have emerged from the Christian traditions on which this nation is built. Catholic schools teach these values explicitly and promote them implicitly, helping young people to lead lives grounded on faith and reason and focused on serving the common good.

Third, in an age when religious belief and teaching are often misrepresented, it is right that Catholic schools are able to offer religious education that is designed to help young people know what they believe in and to express these beliefs.

Finally, I should point out to Alex Wood that Scots law already extends the right to denominational education to other denominational groups; it does not confer any privilege on the Roman Catholic Church, as he suggests. We have maintained an active interest in sustaining denominational provision when others have relinquished theirs. We intend to sustain our interest.

Michael McGrath, director, Scottish Catholic Education Service, Glasgow.

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