Sabbaticals to tempt Catholics

1st September 2006 at 01:00
Headteachers at Roman Catholic secondary schools are being offered "sacred"

sabbaticals as part of a move to combat huge recruitment shortfalls.

Almost 70 heads at schools in the north have taken part in the programme so far and there are calls to extend it to Catholic schools nationwide.

Roman Catholic schools have been among the worst hit by a recent headteacher recruitment slump across the country.

A report for the National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of School and College Leaders, to be published next month, is expected to show Catholic schools find it almost twice as hard to find a head as the national average.

Last year's study, compiled by recruitment specialist John Howson, showed that four out of 10 failed to appoint a head over a 12-month period.

Some commentators have blamed the applications slump on the long-standing rule that all headteachers must be practising Catholics, although the Catholic Education Service has resisted calls to relax the requirement.

But Frank McDermott, director of schools for the Diocese of Hallam, which covers part of South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, has called for so-called "sacred" sabbaticals to be offered to all Catholic heads, acting as a recruitment incentive and helping reaffirm heads' commitment to the Catholic faith.

He has devised courses - open to headteachers of four north-eastern dioceses, including Leeds, Middlesbrough and Hexham and Newcastle - which gives practising heads three weeks' study leave.

The programme runs in June and July, and 67 heads have taken part over the last five years. Under the scheme, heads visit high-flying Catholic schools, take part in discussions with leading theologians, go on pilgrimages to religious sites, undertake "days of reflection" and complete personal and professional studies.

According to a report on the programme by Mr McDermott, a series of initiatives have emerged from the sabbaticals, including new sex education resources for Catholic schools, the re-writing of parables for young Catholic children and "circle time" programmes, designed to "nurture the human wholeness of pupils".

He said: "Our hope is that this type of experience will become an expectation and an entitlement for all Catholic headteachers every five years. It really does help deepen the quality of real education in our schools and affirms and values our heads."

It is not the first time Hallam diocese has piloted programmes designed to affirm teachers' commitment to the faith. All newly-qualified teachers in the area are invited to visit a holocaust memorial centre in Nottinghamshire at the end of their recruitment year to reflect on their work, and the diocese has created a garden in the grounds of a church in Doncaster where teachers and other staff can go for a day to share "prayer and stillness, reflection and appreciation of nature".

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