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.