Friday, 26 October 2012 10:48

Catholic values from my Catholic School

Preparing for university is proving to be an extremely exciting time. My A-level study stretched me to the limits of my capabilities, learning as much about Nuclear Physics as I did about the importance of discipline, focus and endurance. It's now very easy, only a few months on, to dismiss the mammoth challenge they presented thinking 'they weren't really that difficult'. Then the consecutive string of all night revision sessions and seeing the library staff more than I did my brothers and sisters springs delightfully back to memory. I am now pleased to have successfully completed them (more, importantly dispelled them from my life for good) and looking forward to commencing undergraduate study in Politics and Sociology at The University of Bristol.

I can truly feel the transition into young adulthood, being constantly reminded of the multiple tasks I am encouraged to complete independently. From completing application forms for accommodation and financial support to buying bedding sets and crockery. Having also spent the summer working part-time at the Stratford Westfield shopping centre and on the Olympic park, my exposure to responsibility has been considerably heightened. This has all set the context in preparing for 'real' adulthood and building my character for the future that lies ahead.

However, my most distinct period of personal development lies in the 7 years I spent at Our Lady's Convent High School in Hackney. An area amazingly rich in diversity coupled with a variety of socio-economic difficulties provided a very interesting setting for secondary education. Founded on the values of the Servite order, the importance of service is treasured as an essential Catholic teaching. We learnt through practical action, organising trips to local residential homes at Christmas to deliver decorated hampers, becoming involved in social campaigns and being constantly encouraged to be active stewards within our community. During my time at Our Lady's, it became apparent how we show our faith and love for God through the relationships we keep with our neighbours and the efforts we make to improve our universal community. A verse I am sure to never to forget comes from the book of James which makes the point that faith without works is dead. I was among a delegation from my school to be invited to a conference hosted by Harvard University, for our participation in a variety of campaigns pioneered by Citizens UK to present this very message.

Serving my school community as Head Girl was the culmination of years of extra-curricular involvement within the school. I felt exceedingly privileged to be able to represent the student body and lead the school council working towards the school's ongoing development towards improved excellence. All my experiences during these crucially formative years are surely guaranteed to place me in good stead at university and in my further endeavours. I now look upon my younger sister with gleaming eyes as she begins her journey at Our Lady's in year 7, seeing in her what I hope most saw in me. A bright young lady that's full of potential, with a future of endless possibilities.

Inez Sarkodee-Adoo completed her studies at Our Lady’s Convent High School, Hackney this summer and now is in her first term at the University of Bristol.
Friday, 26 October 2012 10:46

Academies in the Diocese of Nottingham

The government’s agenda for change in education includes the option for schools of any persuasion to consider conversion to academy status (an ‘academy’ is a state funded independent school).  Indeed, government policy is openly one of encouraging conversion; they would like to see ‘academies as the norm’.  What we desire as guardians of Catholic schools is to ensure that our schools offer the best education possible to our young people so ‘that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10).  This means offering them a high quality academic, personal, social, physical, spiritual and moral education built on the solid foundation of the teachings and practice of the Catholic faith.  What we want is to support parents in educating our young people so that they have every opportunity to flourish as confident and courageous Catholics; to become those who know how to give something back, to work for the common good.  

So, can these ‘policies’ or ‘ideals’ fit together?  There is not an easy answer to this.  Some would say that they can and others that they can’t.  Here in the Diocese of Nottingham, we liaise with twelve Local Authorities and, on the whole, these have been successful partnerships that have been of benefit to our schools over the years.  It is also true to say that there have been some difficulties, particularly in relation to funding formulas, provision (or not) of school transport, and so on.  Local Authority (L.A.) policy on education and, specifically on academy conversion, varies widely even within our diocese.  The picture across the country as a whole is even more variable.  In some areas there is no longer a School Support Service within the L.A. leaving schools to buy services from an increasingly expanding educational marketplace.  All this means that a single response, or implementation of a single model for Catholic schools nationally is no longer appropriate or even possible.  New ways of thinking about how schools operate and work together and how they are supported to improve need to be carefully developed and considered taking into account these local variations.  It goes without saying that, the core principles for Catholic education will always be shared and central to the mission of our diocesan education services and schools.  Whether or not a school is Voluntary-Aided, Independent or an Academy is not the driving force, “…the life of faith needs to be the driving force… so that the Church’s mission may be served effectively, and the young people may discover the joy of entering into Christ’s ‘being for others’ (Spe Salvi, 28).”  (Pope Benedict XVI, St. Mary’s College, Twickenham, September 2010).

In the Diocese of Nottingham, following a great deal of dialogue with Headteachers and governors, undertaken by its Education Service, the Trustees took the decision to embrace the academy programme and to give their consent for schools to convert to academy status as part of multi-academy trusts.  Already our schools are organised into what we know as ‘families of schools.’  That is, a secondary school and its partner primary schools.  These families of schools vary in size from three to seven schools.  Historically, the effectiveness of the informal collaboration between these groups of schools has been variable.  Some families of schools have developed excellent collaborative practice, meeting together regularly, for example, to plan joint teacher training days for staff, often on religious or spiritual formation and education, and so on.  Other families of schools have only been able to meet rarely and have not really established a consistent pattern of collaboration.   Coming together to form what is a single legal entity as a Catholic multi-Academy Trust gives our schools a chance to crystallise these partnerships creating strategic opportunities to develop and learn together so that all may flourish; the stronger supporting the weaker, so that no school is left behind.  

In one of our first Catholic Academy Trusts, formed in September 2011, the Directors (Governors) as employers, have appointed some key personnel to work across the family of schools: a Lay Chaplain; a School Social Worker from one of our partner organisations ‘Faith in Families’ (formerly the Catholic Children’s Society) to offer support to children in vulnerable families and an Educational Welfare Officer, as the L.A. no longer provides one.  The advantages of these arrangements for the children and families speak for themselves in terms of continuity – the Chaplain, the EWO, the Family Support Worker, will all be available to families as the young people move through the system from 3 to 18 years of age.  Opportunities for the creation of some shared administration and finance staffing structures are also being explored by some of our multi-academy trusts as are the possibilities of appointment of specialist teaching and support staff – modern foreign languages, special educational needs, specialist sport and music teachers, being the most obvious examples.

The Diocesan Education Service (DES) continues to support all its schools and academies with advice on religious education, collective worship, governance, admissions, Section 48 Inspection, and so on.   The DES is also exploring new ways of supporting its schools and academies, for example , recently developing a pilot project with Church Marketplace and a group of School Business Managers with a view to brokering (not providing) services specifically suited to Catholic schools and academies, e.g. Human Resources advice and support.  

Currently there are eight Catholic Academy Trusts in the Diocese of Nottingham formed by 31 academies.  On October 1st, a further seven schools will convert bringing the total number of academies to 38; this represents 45% of our schools.  Our view is that, by coming together to form Catholic Academy Trusts, our schools will be a in a stronger position to face the challenges of an uncertain and continually changing future.

Gail Neill is the Director of Education for the Diocese of Nottingham.
 
Monday, 15 October 2012 11:33

Education, ethics and ethos

The Anscombe Bioethics Centre (formally called the Linacre Centre) was founded in 1977 by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. Our focus is on healthcare ethics, and we approach this in a number of ways.  We respond to consultations.  We engage in research into new and challenging ethical questions.  We provide healthcare practitioners and the public with a Catholic perspective on ethical issues, new and old. 

Attitudes of professionals, policy-makers and the public are shaped by education and the school curriculum covers bioethical issues such as abortion and euthanasia.  Hence, the Centre has embarked on a project specifically to support Catholic education in relation to ethics. This project will include the publication of a book on the ethos of a Catholic School and also a conference in Oxford taking place later this month.  

The topic of ‘ethos’ is one that emerged from our work with teachers. Often we would be invited to a school to speak on a particular topic, such as the ethics of stem cell research.  However, in discussion we frequently found that the questions became much broader: Was the Church opposed to scientific progress? Had she not been opposed to science in the past? Is morality ultimately subjective? How can the Church require people to agree with her moral teaching? Is teaching the truth of Catholic belief just indoctrination? These questions relate to fundamental questions of worldview:  questions not just of ethics but of ethos. 

In the context of the cultural diversity of British society, Catholics often find themselves having to justify the continued existence of Catholic Schools. This question is not only posed by prominent atheists but also by Christians, including some Catholics. What are Catholic Schools for?

Before answering this question it is worth asking another, perhaps overlooked question: What is any school for? Parents, pupils, teachers, universities, potential employers, politicians all look to schools to achieve different things:   to deliver qualifications, to impart skills, to prepare pupils for further studies or employment or both. Schools also keep children off the streets and enable parents to work - a function that becomes very obvious during the school holidays.

Schools fulfil many purposes but their primary aim is, or ought to be, to educate. A school is a place of learning not only about this or that but learning aimed at becoming a certain kind of person:   a person who can flourish in society, an ethical person. Understood in this way, the task of education is essentially concerned with ethics, with helping pupils learn what it is to think and feel and act in an ethical way. This is not just done through study; the character and atmosphere of the school also have a strong role to play.

The point of Catholic schools, therefore, is to educate children according to a Catholic understanding of ethics - a Catholic understanding of what it is to flourish as a human being.  But this leads to another question.  Is there any such thing as a Catholic understanding of ethics? Surely if an action is good or bad then it is good or bad for everyone, not just for Catholics. However, even if this is true (and it needs some qualification) it is clear that not everyone agrees about what is good or bad. The Catholic Church draws on a particular tradition of ethical wisdom, and it is this ethical wisdom that Catholic schools exist to foster. 

The Anscombe Centre conference on Tuesday 30th October (10am-4pm at St Gregory the Great Catholic School, Oxford OX4 3DR) is an excellent opportunity to think about ethics, science and religion in the curriculum and across the school.  Speakers include Fr Andrew Pinsent, Research Director at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, and Fr Tim Gardner OP, a school chaplain and RE teacher who is Department Secretary (Catholic Education and Formation) at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. The day is for teachers, school leadership and others involved in education (such as school governors), and is initially, but not exclusively, geared towards those attached to Catholic Schools. Bookings and the latest updates are available at www.bioethics.org.uk and at goo.gl/Wx29dW or by phone on 01865 610 212. 

Prof David Albert Jones is Director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford.

 

Every Catholic school in England and Wales has been been invited to begin the forthcoming Year of Faith by having a week of prayer and service inspired by a young saint.

The joint initiative of the Bishops’ Department for Education and Formation, and also Evangelisation and Catechesis, is called ‘Little Way Week’ and is being run from 6 - 12 October. Many of the resources are not date specific which means it could also be offered any time during this academic year. Little Way Week coincides with the opening of the Year of Faith on 11 October which has as its focus ‘The New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith’. The Year marks the 50 anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and also coincides with a gathering of bishops from across the world in Rome. One of the key emphases of the Year of Faith is to know better the Catholic Faith. Everyone is invited to participate in this year of celebration and mission, mindful that faith is not meant to be private, but professed and shared.

In support of the celebration of the Year in Catholic schools, the Little Way Week initiative aims to encourage everyone in the school community to pray and to serve one another and their local communities doing at least one activity, every day for a week. The initiative is inspired by the example and spiritual teaching of of St Thérèse of Lisieux, a French Carmelite nun who died when she was just 24 years old. Thérèse wrote:  “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” At a very young age she came to understand that everyone can grow in holiness and witness to God’s love by doing little things for love of Him and others every day.

Bishop Malcolm McMahon, Chair of the Department of Education and Formation of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said: “I am delighted to commend the ‘Little Way Week’ and I hope very much that all of our schools will use it as an opportunity to follow the example of St Thérèse of Lisieux in undertaking simple acts of loving witness. Following her ‘Little Way’ teaches us to do the ordinary things of life with extraordinary love. At the heart of this is our faith that Jesus is the power for love and goodness in our lives, and so the Little Way Week will provide the best possible start to our celebration of the Year of Faith in our schools and communities.”

Meanwhile Bishop Kieran Conry, Chair of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said: “Little Way Week is a wonderful initiative that the whole school community can participate in to witness to God’s love through service. Let us imitate St Thérèse as someone who found deep and lasting joy and happiness in doing little things for Jesus and those around her.”

On the Bishops’ Conference website a number of free resources are available to schools. There are several video recordings of circle time with primary age children and video reflections provided by CAFOD for use with secondary age students. Whilst the primary school lesson plan focuses on teaching about nurturing virtues, the secondary school lessons have as their focus role models and what Christian love in action means. Also online are stickers, teachers’ leaflets, posters, scripture resources to be used daily in the classroom, assembly formats, as well as other materials. All the materials are available from: http://www.catholicnews.org.uk/little-way-week

In partnership with Premier Christian Radio a national art competition for schools is being run with prizes being awarded in two categories - primary school children aged 5 - 11 years old and secondary school students aged 11 - 18. The theme of the competition is “Helping Others: Expressing Faith in Little Ways” and entrants are invited to submit their entry through their school. More information and an online entry form is available from: http://www.premier.org.uk/hearttoheart  

The Week is being coordinated by the Bishops’ Conference Home Mission Desk, in partnership with the Catholic Education Service. The hope is that every school will participate in some way as the launch pad for a year of activities to celebrate and share the Catholic Faith.

 

Clare Ward 

Home Mission Desk of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

 
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