Thursday, 14 June 2012 15:26

Catholic schools: A force for good in their local community

What is it that makes a Catholic education unique and a force for good?  As a practising Catholic who has spent a career working in education right across the country this is a question that I am frequently asked by education professionals and by parents looking for that special something that they see a Catholic education gives. Having thought about this many times I now have some answers to give.

In my experience what makes a good Catholic education unique is the combination of the very best in teaching, aspirations and sound values.

There are many good schools that offer excellent education, that employ outstanding teachers, that have the highest aspirations for their pupils. The difference that I have experienced and seen in  many Catholic schools is the way in which the shared values of governors and staff can be witnessed in their caring approach to the well being of their pupils,  and the way in which that transmits to the way pupils relate to one another.  In these schools even the casual visitor can see that the spiritual and physical well being of pupils is as important as how well they do in their GCSEs and A levels.

In good Catholic schools these values can be witnessed in everyday, small ways.  Yes there is excellent teaching and high expectations at every level but there are also clear boundaries that staff implement consistently and that pupils know, respect and respond to.  There are strong links with parents and the local Catholic community.  There is a broad, balanced, creative and caring curriculum that meets the needs of the less academic as well as the more able pupils.  There is an open and inclusive philosophy that welcomes all children irrespective of their levels of ability or additional needs and where the achievements of every child, however small or insignificant, are acknowledged and celebrated.

Perhaps controversially, I have to say that not every Catholic school achieves this. I have worked right across the country and have seen fine examples of what I think of as outstanding Catholic schools; St Patrick’s in Salford, St. Anthony’s in Sunderland, St. Bede’s in Lanchester.  However, I have also worked with some Catholic schools, some very successful high achieving Catholic schools, where the ethos, inclusiveness and caring philosophy falls well short of what is expected.  I saw things, particularly whilst working in London, that as a Catholic educator shamed me. I do not believe a Catholic school that can permanently exclude a child for swearing when they know that child has a statement of special educational needs for Tourette’s syndrome, or a school that skews its admissions to exclude children from less well off estates or certain ethnic backgrounds are good Catholic schools, irrespective of their high academic results or their ‘outstanding’ Ofsted label.

As a practising Catholic, I believe successful Catholic schools are those schools that are firmly embedded in their local Catholic communities and in the values of those communities.  They are schools that draw their pupils from local recognised primary feeder schools and not from far and wide.  They have governors and senior staff that are close to and not separated from local parishes and the needs of local parents. They are schools where the children of the poor as well as the well heeled are welcomed and nurtured and tutored for success.

Pat Glass, Member of Parliament for North West Durham and a member of the Education Select Committee

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