CES News (115)
What is ‘Religious Education’? In some schools, RE is little more than Sociology of Religion, while in others it follows a Comparative Religion model, helping make true Ronald Knox’s observation that, ‘the study of comparative religions is the best way to become comparatively religious.’ If, as seems likely, Religious Studies GCSE declines as a result of the English Baccalaureate, then we are likely to see many RE lessons become a sort of curricular appendix into which all the non-exam subjects like Citizenship and Sex and Relationships Education may be quietly banished.
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.
Religious Education is at the heart of the nature and purpose of the education of young people. It is at the core of the Catholic school. As the 2012 Curriculum Directory for Catholic Schools says of Religious Education:
“Religious Education has a central role in the curriculum of the Catholic school and is at the heart of the philosophy of Catholic education. Religious Education has developed in a way that reflects the particular identity of our Catholic schools in England and Wales.”
The most important thing we can teach our children is to love your neighbour as yourself. For young children it can be difficult to answer the question ‘who is my neighbour?’ For many of them it can just mean those who live close to them.
Holy Cross Catholic School, Plymouth has had a link with St John Vianney School in Gambia for over three years. The link was celebrated during the Holy Father’s visit to the UK in 2010 at The Big Assembly, Twickenham.
Catholic education could be seen as increasingly beleaguered. In the last few weeks, The Guardian has claimed that Catholic schools favour wealthier families with children on free school meals under-represented. And recently, there has been controversy about the letter from the Archbishops to schools on marriage.
We are rightly proud of our Catholic schools. There is a pluralistic approach to education with the churches, Jewish and Muslim authorities providing education which is regulated in largely the same way as state schools but with a religious dimension in those schools. The state pays the salaries and running costs and 90% of buildings (100% for academies).
Throughout the Gospels there are lessons to be learned either from what Jesus had to say and more often in the actions He took, and why and how He did what He did - examples are there for us all on the nature of the leadership that we can expect in our Catholic educational faith communities.
At the Last Supper, after Jesus had powerfully demonstrated the concept of ‘Servant Leadership’ by washing of the feet of His disciples, He responded to arguments about status by patiently explaining His view of leadership.
It has become a commonplace comment that Christians in the UK are facing persecution from an overbearing state, a seemingly hostile judiciary and a metropolitan elite with friends in the media. A quick trawl of news sites shows that Ann Widdecombe believes that ‘Christianity in Britain is under severe persecution and it will get worse’; David Simpson MP says that ‘we don’t have to go to other countries to see persecution, we simply look to our own back door’. Even the former Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Rev Lord Carey, says that in Britain ‘Christians are vilified by the state... Christians are being driven underground’.
Change in the world of education has been rapid and will continue under the Coalition Government at a pace; one might speculate about the shape of the educational landscape in 2012. Already we see a world of academies, free schools, companies which provide education, competition, deregulation and closures. It is also a time of great demographic change in the Catholic population which is affecting dioceses in very different ways. The classroom has become ethnically very diverse. This offers a wonderful opportunity to understand the Catholic Church as the community of disciples in a much broader way.