Education Sunday this year falls on Sunday 27th January and offers an opportunity for schools and parishes to work together to promote Catholic education in their community.
The relationship between parish and Catholic school has been central in preserving the Catholic ethos of the education. Following the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in 1850 the building of schools was often prioritised over the building of Churches, a clear indication of the Church’s commitment to education and its role in the formation and development of the whole person. These schools were often used as the main place of worship with the whole Catholic community gathering together to support each other.
There remain many opportunities throughout the year for schools and parishes to come together to celebrate the faith and ensure the longevity and strength of Catholic education, but Education Sunday shines a spotlight on schools.
This is an opportunity, first of all, for parishioners to give financial, spiritual, practical and political support to our Catholic schools. There is a collection for Catholic education on the Sunday, and worship resources including homily notes and prayers are available from www.educationsunday.org.
But Education Sunday is also an opportunity for schools, their staff and pupils, to share their work, learning and experiences of Catholic education with parishes.
There are many other ways in which all Catholics can get involved in Catholic education from supporting school fundraising events to becoming a school governor.
In the ever changing education agenda, there is often need for parish support at a local political level. School transport remains a key issue in many areas with local authorities cutting provision, a move that disproportionately affects Catholic schools which have larger than average catchment areas. To find out more about home to school transport and how you can campaign in your local areas see www.catholiceducation.org.uk/index.php/campaigns/transport-toolkit
Free Schools Meals is another policy area which especially affects Catholic schools given our primary concern for the poor. The annual census data collected from all Catholic schools in England and Wales show that 20% of pupils at Catholic secondary schools in England live in the most deprived areas compared with 17% nationally. Free school meals are available to children from the lowest income families. They provide a hot meal at lunch which is important in providing both health and education benefits to the child and reducing financial burdens on the child’s family.
The CES remains concerned about the low take-up of Free School Meals in Catholic schools. Research from The Children Society show that of 1.5 million children in England who meet the eligibility criteria for Free School Meals, around 200,000 are not registered, and of those registered, a further 300,000 do not eat the meal. In addition to the health, educational and financial benefits to the child and their families, this also had a direct impact on the schools themselves. Changes in funding arrangements also mean that schools receive addition funding (£500 per pupil) based upon the number of children receiving Free School Meals.
The CES will be running a campaign this year to increase the take up of Free School Meals in Catholic schools and will be encouraging schools, parents and parishioners to spread the word on the role that Free School Meals have in ensuring the healthy development of children. Full details on how to claim Free School Meals and who is eligible can be found at www.catholiceducation.org.uk/campaigns/free-school-meals.
The CES together with CSAN (Caritas Social Action Network) are also supporting The Children Society’s Fair and Square campaign, who are petitioning the government for all children living in poverty to receive Free School Meals. To find out more about the campaign see www.childrenssociety.org.uk/fairandsquare.
Education Sunday also remains an opportunity to thanks those in parishes and staff in schools whose work ensure high standards of Catholic Education we have in schools today.