Monday, 7 July 2008

The political position of Catholic schools in the UK

Since posting about Ed Balls support for faith schools on the letters page of the Times a couple of days ago, I have come across a couple of bits of background.

The first is the existence of a group called ACCORD. This group aims to influence government and others to help ensure that places of state funded education are provided for everyone irrespective of race or religion or belief. Its principles include the following:
All state funded schools should:-

Operate admissions policies to take no account of pupils' - or their parents' - religion or belief.
Operate recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on grounds of religion or belief.
Follow an objective, fair and balanced syllabus for religious and non-religious beliefs - whether determined by their local authority or by any future national syllabus for curriculum for religious education.
Be made accountable under a single inspection regime for religious education, personal, social, health education and citizenship.
Provide their pupils with inclusive, inspiring and stimulating assemblies in place of compulsory acts of worship.

Whilst my source is "impeccable", and the group is in its early days of existence, I have not yet been able to find an internet presence for this group. The group's principles clearly oppose the historic "dual system" by which Catholic schools in this country operate within the state funded system yet retain control over the delivery and inspection of those aspects of their life that most closely affect their Catholic character. No school could genuinely remain Catholic were it to operate under the regime proposed by ACCORD.

Referring to their last point, I must say that I am not a supporter of the continued requirement for a daily act of public worship in maintained schools (ie schools without a religious designation). So far as I can see, many schools ignore this requirement and, if inspectors comment on their failure to observe it, they happily continue to ignore it. I would much prefer to see it replaced by chaplaincy provision to schools, much along the lines of hospital and port chaplaincy. Another story ...

My second interesting bit of background was to spot the Catholic Education Service's report of their annual Parliamentary reception to celebrate the work of Catholic schools. The full ministerial team turned out from the DCSF, including of course Ed Balls himself. With hindsight, I realise that his letter to the Times was probably only saying what he had said at this reception.

Mr Balls, who was joined later by Schools Minister Jim Knight, told of his respect for the efforts of the Churches, noting that historically, they were the first providers of free public education and emphasised that Catholic schools and colleges are “leading the way” on many key issues, including the promotion of community cohesion. He thanked providers of Catholic education and the CES for all the work we do with the Government to raise standards and create opportunities for all.

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