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Vocation is not just for plumbers

Pat McDermott answers your leadership questions

As a governor of the local Catholic secondary school, I would like to know if the Tomlinson proposals satisfy the entitlement of the student aged 14 to 19 in Catholic education.

As the report from the Tomlinson inquiry is not due to be published until later this month we can only speculate at this stage. It is widely expected that the new template for 14 to 19 programmes will consist of three areas:

* A core consisting of: maths skills, communication, information and communication technology, an extended project, extra-curricular activities, personal planning, review and guidance.

lMain learning consisting of: specialisation, complementary learning, and chosen subjects.

lCommon skills including: independent learning, interpersonal skills, and active citizenship.

If this turns out to be correct, then you are right to be concerned and ask this question as these proposals contain no reference to what is "core" for Catholic education.

As the Catholic Education Service puts it in its 14-19 Toolkit: "Provision within the Catholic sector is distinctive, offering the opportunity for students to grow in knowledge, understanding, skills, beliefs, and values, within a community founded on Catholic principles. This provides opportunities for students to experience the teachings of the Church and to reflect upon their significance for personal growth and well-being, as well as the individuals' roles and responsibilities to society."

Where is all this in the new Tomlinson proposals, you may ask? What would a Catholic student's entitlement look like?

Let's have a look at Josephine, a fictitious 16-year-old pupil at a Catholic school. What would her distinctive entitlement look like?

"Josephine is a unique individual who has a right to learn about her identity, purpose and fulfilment within her own educative community of faith. She will be encouraged to articulate and share her faith with others, including members of other faiths and none. In this way her own faith and commitment will grow. Josephine will be entitled to an RE programme that is based on the teachings of the Church, along with opportunities for worship and spiritual development. Advice, guidance and information will be provided in accordance with the teachings of the Church.

"Of course Josephine will be entitled to pursue academic excellence but learn that these gifts that she develops are for the service of others and not just for her. Her teachers will develop her talents, and encourage her to become an independent and lifelong learner. This will mean that Josephine is entitled to learn that she is religious. Her vocation is God-given not government-controlled." And so on.

As you are aware, this vision and understanding of education is fundamental for the Catholic Church and is not, and cannot be "bolted-on" to the emerging 14 to 19 template for education in this country. This is the core purpose and must be central to any new framework that is applied to Catholic education. It contrasts sharply with what is emerging from Tomlinson.

The new proposals do provide the Catholic community with an opportunity to re-examine what we should really be about in education. The debate on 14 to 19 should be enriched by a new understanding of what is meant by "vocational" opportunities for young people; priests as well as plumbers and missionaries as well as mechanics! The Tomlinson report will challenge the distinctive nature of education in a Catholic school. Can you and your governor colleagues articulate the response needed?

Your school will be working hard, I am sure, to demonstrate that you have effective strategies for 14 to19 education in order to raise achievement, provide value for money, and increase participation, as all schools are doing. What is your school doing to ensure that the core purpose of a Catholic school will continue to exist post-Tomlinson? The entitlement of a student in a Catholic school must be fundamentally different and distinctive.

Can your school absorb the coming recommendations in a way that enables Josephine to receive her full entitlement too? That's the way the Tomlinson proposals will satisfy the entitlement of the student in Catholic education.

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11 to 18 girls' school, in Bradford. This is his third headship, and he has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and mentored Catholic heads for 10 years. Do you have a leadership question? Email

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