Sneering at Catholic success

30th October 1998 at 00:00
Reading The TES on October 16, I looked back at the cover: had I bought the wrong tabloid? Your article on Ampleforth School with its talk of "lashing" parents and "a burst of holy spleen", and "Catholic toffs sending their offspring to Anglican alternatives," was not in the reasoned style I might have hoped for.

The week before, I had published in the Tablet an article about the role of Catholic independent education. I hoped it was strongly argued and thoughtful. It raised the issue of the progressive secularisation of our society and dared to suggest that many Anglican foundations had suffered more from the process than had Catholic schools.

Your report sneeringly invents sentiments which I have never expressed, that "Catholic toffs should go to toffish schools for Catholics". "Toff" is a tabloid word, implying class division. Its use is an assault on the spirit of partnership in the education system fostered by Government ministers, and to which we and other independent schools have given warm practical support.

Yes, I do believe that Catholic children, rich or poor, are best educated at Catholic schools, studying and growing within a community where Catholic values and beliefs are the very fabric of daily life. But it is for parents to decide. I wrote: "Catholic schools have always had to attract parents as simply the best places, all things considered, for the education of Catholic children".

In your report, you say "They (Catholic toffs) stand accused of taking a 'shallow sentimental approach to the church and submitting to the forces of secularism'. In fact. I referred to the trend among some liberal-minded Catholics towards intercommunion with other churches (like it or not, a violation of Catholic discipline), and to the situation in one Anglican school where at some Catholics receive the Eucharist.

"Taken together," I wrote, "it may be suggested, such developments do not reflect the considered and principled ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council and the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, but a shallow sentimental approach to the Church, and the impact of the secularising forces of our society". Quite a difference.

Too little publicity has been given to success stories about Catholic schools - all Catholic schools, be they independent, state or grant-maintained. For its part, Ampleforth has just had the biggest entry overall in 10 years.

Leo Chamberlain. Headmaster. Ampleforth College. York

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