CES News (116)

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

 

This month marks the start of the Catholic Education Service‘s (CES) campaign for the inclusion of Religious Education in new reforms to Key Stage 4 public examinations. CES is keen to promote Religious Education as an academic subject which is at the heart of the curriculum in Catholic Schools and therefore deserves recognition in the proposed reforms. The statement below outlines the reasoning behind CES’s campaign, which will run till the end of the consultation period on 10th December 2012.

 

It is the view of the Catholic Church that good quality, well taught Religious Education is always and everywhere beneficial to pupils and therefore to society as a whole. Critical reflection upon the nature and content of religious belief can only contribute positively to the education of the whole person.

However, in Catholic schools Religious Education has a privileged place. The first principle of Catholic education is that parents must be able to exercise genuine choice in their children’s education. This principle has been consistently affirmed in the teaching of the Church and is enshrined in Canon Law.

It is a matter of justice, then, that Catholic parents be free to choose authentically Catholic schools for their children. As Pope Blessed John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, “The special character of the Catholic school, the underlying reason for it, the reason why Catholic parents should prefer it, is precisely the quality of the religious instruction integrated into the education of the pupils.” 

Religious Education is not just an important facet of the curriculum of the Catholic school, it is the very core of the whole curriculum and entire ethos of that school. For this reason more than any other, the current proposals for the English Baccalaureate Certificate (which seem to exclude Religious Education from the core curriculum) are profoundly troubling.

In our view, current GCSEs in Religious Studies would benefit from reform. Pupils already benefit enormously from their study of GCSE RS, and it is a subject which, given the chance, can more than hold its own in a reformed system of examinations. Allowing Catholic schools to place Religious Education at the heart of the curriculum through an enriched English Baccalaureate is one way to achieve this.

 

Every Catholic school in England and Wales has 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. It 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 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.”

The Week will coincide with the opening of the Year of Faith on 11 October which Pope Benedict XVI has initiated. The Year marks the 50th 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 for a synod themed, ‘The New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith’. 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.

Free downloadable resources for schools include: lesson plans, teachers’ leaflets, scripture reflections, videos, assembly formats and there is also a national art competition being offered in partnership with Premier Christian Radio. The materials are available from: http://www.catholicnews.org.uk/little-way-week Information about the art competition is available from: http://www.premier.org.uk/littleway

The Week is being coordinated by the Bishops’ Conference Home Mission Desk, in partnership with the Catholic Education Service.

 
Friday, 21 September 2012 12:20

Your school needs you

For young people up and down the country a new year has just begun, with the school year in September bringing more change in their lives than January.    For many children in our parish families this could mean beginning life in one of the over 2000 Catholic schools in England, perhaps at four years old or at eleven with the move to secondary schools.  The Catholic ethos, rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ, should permeate all aspects of the life of the school. And as part of those values, we want to ensure excellence and that all our young people meet their potential, achieving the most they possibly can and setting them up to take advantage of available opportunities and make a full contribution during the rest of their life. 

These are very challenging times for schools, with greater expectations of teachers and pupils, comparisons made with education systems across the world, information technology changing incredibly fast, jobs being created that were never dreamt of when I was at school, youth unemployment rising and very tight Government funding.  We certainly cannot spend ourselves out of these corners and neither can we return to curriculums of old which catered for a very different world than our young people will find themselves in.  To ensure our children are equipped to succeed, the day-to-day offer by schools to this generation has to be different from the ones we experienced, yet at the same time ensuring our eternal Catholic values remain at its core.    Are you interested in helping Catholic schools rise to these exciting challenges?  There is an important role that a lay member of the parish you can volunteer to do – that of school governor.

School governors are often described as ‘unsung heroes’ including by Government ministers.  Their work is largely hidden from view.  In your parish there will be school governors amongst you who are providing a vital leadership role to our Catholic schools. In Catholic schools, foundation governors – practising Catholics appointed by the Diocese – make up the majority. A foundation governor has a responsibility to preserve and develop the Catholic character of the school, but like all governors, also has to ensure high standards of educational achievement by the children.  

It is the role of the school governing body to both support and challenge the school, in particular to ensure the headteacher is held accountable for the education provided.  Long gone are the days when being a governor was little more than a cup of tea and a chat about how lovely the school is.  Over the years as schools have gained greater independence from local authorities, more duties have been given to governors. Being on a governing body is now much more akin to being on the Trustee Board of a charity or on the Board of Directors of a limited company and Academy governors are now also trustees and directors.  The buck stops with the governing body, and while this is a great responsibility, it can also be incredibly rewarding.   Just under three-quarters of Catholic schools are rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding, but this does leave a significant number requiring dramatic improvement.  Playing a part successfully in such a school can mean watching more children each year leaving more prepared to face the challenges ahead. Even outstanding schools require good governance; schools can be quite fragile places, and an outstanding headteacher leaving a school can make it vulnerable, especially where recruiting a Catholic head is difficult due to short supply of good candidates.   

Governing bodies are a corporate body, made up usually of between 10 and 18 people, and amongst its members the team needs to have a range of skills and diverse from outside the education sector – such as experience of governance in other sectors, strategic planning, staff recruitment, data analysis, performance management, community relations, problem solving, financial management, premises management, procurement, legal expertise, and many others.   Clearly, no one person will bring all of that to the table, but if you do feel you have something to offer and are able to make a commitment, please do consider putting yourself forward to be a Foundation governor at a Catholic school.  You can start the process three-ways – have a conversation with the Chair of Governors at the school nearest you, contact your Parish priest, or contact the Diocesan.  If you are appointed, you should receive induction training, and the National Governor’s Association publishes a ‘Welcome to Governance’ guide which should be of help in your early days (see www.nga.org.uk).   

Emma Knights is Chief Executive of the National Governors’ Association and also a foundation governor at the children’s Catholic secondary school

 

Today the Catholic Education Service (CES) welcomed the OFSTED review of Pupil Premiums as an opportunity for the Government to ensure disadvantaged children receive the additional support. 

Currently Pupil Premiums are calculated using the number of children receiving Free School Meals.  Annual census data from Catholic schools in England show that the number of children receiving Free School Meals does not reflect the proportion of children from deprived areas highlighted by the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI). 

IDACI data provided by the Department for Education highlights that despite a lower than average take-up of Free School Meals in Catholic schools, 19% of Catholic Pupil (compared with 14% nationally) come from the most deprived 10% of areas. Likewise the data shows that Catholic schools have consistently smaller proportions of pupils from least deprived areas.

The CES is keen to promote a pupil premium calculated from a number of indicators which take into consideration addition indicators including Free Schools Meals and IDACI. 

Greg Pope, Deputy Director of CES said “We support the government’s aim to ensure that funding for children from disadvantaged families is available to support them in their education.  This review provides the Department for Education with the opportunity to evaluate how Pupil Premiums are calculated to ensure that all children from disadvantaged backgrounds will receive this support. A basket of indicators is preferable as our evidence highlights that there are many children from deprived areas who, for whatever reason, do not take up Free School Meals.” 

ENDs
 
OFSTED’s review on Pupil Premiums can be found at www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/pupil-premium

Responding to Michael Gove’s education reforms, the Catholic Education Service (CES) has called for Religious Education (RE) to remain a priority in schools.

The reforms suggest that greater focus is required in ‘the core academic subjects of English, mathematics, sciences, history, geography and languages.’ The CES will continue to work with the Department for Education to ensure RE is not excluded from this new model, and that standards and rigour applied to examinations in core subjects will be extended to RE.

Father Tim Gardner OP, CES’s RE advisor said “RE lies at the heart of the curriculum in Catholic schools, and is an essential part of the curriculum in all schools. We will work with the Government and other faith groups to ensure that good quality RE remains a priority. We agree that the current RE GCSE requires reform to raise academic standards and the EBacc offers us the opportunity to ensure that RE is a rigorous and academic subject which stimulates and enriches children’s education. We will continue to promote RE as a core academic subject, which should take its rightful place among other humanities such as History and Geography.”

The Department for Education’s consultation on “Reforming Key Stage 4 Qualifications” offers the CES and other education stakeholders the opportunity to respond to the Government’s proposals.

Monday, 23 July 2012 10:14

Preaching the Gospel without words

“Preach the Gospel; use words if necessary”. This quote, attributed to St Francis of Assisi, sounds like a rebuke to Church press officers everywhere – how are we supposed to preach the Gospel if we can’t issue a press release? I’m not sure that the BBC would be terribly happy if next time they asked us for a comment we had to point out that we couldn’t say anything, because we preach the Gospel without words. Only we couldn’t even say that, because in doing so, we’d have to use words. It looks like we have an impossible task!

Monday, 23 July 2012 10:11

How is Religious Education changing?

A fourteen year old pupil once said to me, ‘You know, RE is a great subject, but you should really change its name.’ I asked why, and he said ‘Because it contains the two words that young people hate the most.’

In our two-form entry Catholic primary school just near Heathrow there are 472 children on roll including the 52 who come part-time to our Nursery. They are all baptised Catholics and they all live in the same parish. These 472 children speak a total of 43 languages between them. When OFSTED came to our school in 2002 only 6% of the school roll spoke English as an additional language. When they came back 5 years later the figure had risen to 43%. It is now over 60% for the school as a whole and amongst our younger children the figure is nearer 80%.

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