The lesson of Catholic education

24th September 2004 at 01:00
As you might expect, there are significant paradoxes in the simmering row about Catholic education. Denominational schools and their communities are less Catholic than they were 25 years ago, as the Catholic primary heads'

conference heard last week. Fewer go to Mass and fewer are believers, which teachers and priests know well enough. This is surely a reflection that the Catholic community is fully integrated into a more secular Scottish society and is not the oppressed minority it once was.

A feeling of continuing persecution persists, which is not allayed by the developments over shared campuses. Leaders of the Catholic Church do not trust politicians, local or national, to meet what they believe are legal obligations to the Church. But at the same time, millions of pounds are being poured into new Catholic schools for a dwindling population.

Apparently minor disputes about separate entrances and staffrooms are taking the arguments back to fundamentals.

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that 25 years ago Catholic schools were the poor relation of education but virtually all inspectorate reports now pay glowing tribute to their ethos, attainment and achievement, despite the generally disadvantaged communities they serve. They are doing a lot right in education and promoting social inclusion. Non-Catholic parents have recognised that and, even in North Lanarkshire, according to Bishop Joe Devine, as many as 35 pupils have recently switched from a non-denominational secondary to a Catholic secondary because of its enhanced reputation.

There are reasons why Catholic schools are doing well. They are generally more comprehensive in intake than non-denominational schools and enjoy a sense of shared community that appears to raise their game. But in a Scotland dominated by a Celtic and Rangers cultural enmity, we can lose track of the educational lessons.

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