Catholic schools across Northern Ireland prepare to play their part in Catholic Schools Week, an annual international event that highlights the exceptional contribution Catholic schools make, not only to their students and to the school community , but also to society in general Catholic Schools Week see the launch of a new ethics document, “Catholic schools, at the service of communities” which articulates the values ââand the future vision of Catholic education in Ireland North. In this context, it is entirely appropriate, at the present time, that the Council of Catholic Public Schools (CCMS) reinforces the position that parents must continue to have the right to access denominational education for their child. in accordance with Protocol 1, Article 2 of the Human Rights Act.
However, there is currently a lot of debate about the future of education in Northern Ireland.
Most of them revolve around the question of whether there is a role for faith-based education in our society with a number of widely stated assertions and assumptions.
Catholic education is a relic of a divided past.
A perception of denominational education here is that of an unknown and autonomous entity with no other example of a diverse education offer offered in any other setting in the world. Catholic education is not unique to Northern Ireland. In fact, Catholic and other denominational schools exist around the world because parents have the right to choose the education offer according to their religious and philosophical beliefs. Our Catholic schools are part of a global Catholic education network where 60 million students of all faiths and none are welcomed, cherished and supported to realize their potential and contribute positively to the common good.
We need a unified education system.
We have heard repeated calls for a one size fits all education system. The assumption is that this move will cure all that is wrong with society here, but to date there has been little elaboration of what this means, nor recognition given to the undeniable truth that ‘a society reflects more than its educational system. . It is contradictory to assert that our education system does not reflect a mature and diverse society by suggesting that diversity can only be achieved and enjoyed if we remove the diversity of choice that currently exists within it. Doing so excludes those who have legitimate interests in the future of denominational education here. It appears that some political conversations are taking place without reference to the voice of the extended family of Catholic education providers which includes Catholic schools, Catholic volunteer high schools and St Mary’s University College.
In many ways I agree. But it is a fundamentally wrong position to assert that only schools that claim to be âintegratedâ can provide education to people of different faiths and none. There are many examples of Catholic and other schools that cater for a wide range of students.
Catholic schools are and always have been inclusive in the truest sense of the word. 44% of primary schools and 29% of post-primary schools in Northern Ireland are continuing Catholic schools – when added to the voluntary Catholic-run grammar figures the total number of pupils attending Catholic schools equals to 44.7% of the school-age population. Places in Catholic schools remain in demand. 53% of all newcomer children attend Catholic schools, arguably making Catholic schools among the most diverse schools in the country. In a diverse culture, Catholic schools are highly regarded.
Catholic education is just a narrow education for Catholics
Catholic schools contribute to the well-being of the education system as a whole by the pursuit of true excellence while remaining true to their distinctive culture, vision and approach. This allows learners not only to realize their own personal gifts, but also to value the contribution of others. Catholic schools are open to students of all faiths and none; all capacities; and all socio-economic backgrounds, therefore Catholic education is naturally inclusive. Our inclusive learning centers listen, encourage constructive dialogue and support the development of mutual understanding; in doing so, they improve communities and provide the opportunity for the holistic growth of a young person. Catholic schools continue to increase their capacity for diversity, academic excellence and achievement for all.
The Catholic / Christian worldview is outdated in a modern society
The underlying philosophy and characteristics of Catholic education underpin Catholic schools in the way they help all learners, regardless of ability, to achieve and realize their full potential. Catholic education encompasses all aspects of children’s education. It promotes the dignity and worth of every human person; the purpose and value of education; the relationship between education, family and local community; and the purpose and meaning of life itself. Catholic education is inclusive and promotes listening, mutual understanding, trust, reconciliation, healing and peace.
Catholic schools are firmly anchored in their local communities where all children, young people and their families, whatever their origin, culture or beliefs, are welcomed and supported. The links between the family, the parish, the community and the school remain important and strong. Indeed, this broader sense of community helps develop and strengthen the core message of respect for diversity and inclusion throughout our society.
Catholic schools continue to play a leading role in breaking down barriers through innovative shared education programs and in partnership with other schools, regardless of the sector to which the school is linked. In a growing secular and pluralistic society, Catholic schools retain the full support of their local communities where parents continue to have confidence in the quality of education provided, the exceptional pastoral care provided and the high levels of commitment. towards the excellence demonstrated by school leaders. Catholic schools and their distinct contribution to the education system are essential to sustaining a modern and diverse society. The degree to which Catholic schools continue to attract such a large percentage of the school-age population is a testament to the quality of the educational offer in these schools.
Catholic schools and the teachers and other staff employed in them enthusiastically seek to improve the educational outcomes of all children. In the last 5 years of exam data, student performance in CCMS schools at the GCSE level has improved year over year by almost 10 percentage points. Beyond 16 years of age, there is a similar trend of improvement with the percentage of students in CCMS schools reaching 3 or higher A levels (or equivalent) at A * -C grades increasing year on year. just over 50% to 61%. . These results remain well above the Northern Ireland average for all non-selective schools.
We are all too aware of the challenges we face in Northern Ireland; our divided past and the scourge of bigotry continue to tarnish our society.
We all aspire to live in a fully inclusive society where everyone is respected, regardless of their origins or beliefs.
It is essential that all schools in Northern Ireland continue to lead the way in breaking down barriers.
Catholic schools are essential in healing these divisions and in building a better future for all.
They have always played a positive role in helping to bridge the divisions in our society and building bridges between different communities. Catholic schools have led the way in meeting these challenges and are an integral part of the collective educational fabric today and into the future, as we all work to help our young people succeed in a changing world.
They will always continue to do so and will work alongside schools in other areas to make it happen.
Over the past decades, the education system in Northern Ireland has undergone many changes. The current Independent Review of Education provides an opportunity to examine our system and present proposals that will enable and strengthen the design and delivery of an education system of the highest quality for our future generations. learners. It is important that after the exam we have an education system that respects diversity and parental preference – whether it is a Catholic, controlled, integrated, voluntary high school or an Irish language school or any other type of school. future school that could support our changing society. A diverse society is enriched by the diversity of its educational offer.
CCMS recognizes, accepts and respects the rights of all different sectors of education in Northern Ireland. This diversity should be viewed positively in terms of the contribution it makes to building a cohesive society while ensuring that parental preferences are respected within an education system that meets the needs of all children. .
We believe that no sector should stand out from the rest in terms of recognition and support. CCMS recognizes the need to be forward looking to ensure that every child, regardless of religious, ethnic, cultural or socioeconomic background, has equal access to high quality education so that all can achieve their full potential. potential and help build a strong economy. Catholic schools continue to move forward and play a positive role in raising standards and respect not only in the classroom, but throughout the community and society at large. In a modern and pluralistic society, Catholic education contributes to the creation of strong communities, a strong economy and community cohesion.
In this context, are Catholic schools a relic of our divided past or more exactly a fundamental part of our shared and diverse future?
* Gerry Campbell, Chief Executive Officer of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), which is the managing authority for 447 schools in Northern Ireland, employing around 6,500 teachers.