The Importance of Parent Teachers by Michael McGrath
This article first appeared in the Scottish Catholic Observer on 4th April 2014.
In almost 40 years of my professional life in Catholic education I have always been aware of the vital role which parents can play in the education and formation of their children. All the evidence indicates that children thrive, aspire and are successful when their parents show interest, offer support, ask challenging questions and get involved in nurturing them from the earliest days and in ensuring that the formal school education they experience is fit for purpose. Some recent events have only added to my belief in the vital role of parents in education.
Recently I represented the Church in the appointment of a school’s Head Teacher, as part of an interview panel which consisted of an officer of the Council, two Head Teachers and a member of the school’s Parent Council. It was very clear from the start that the Council wished to take the views of parents very seriously. The parent on the panel represented very well the views of parents about the kind of leadership which the school required. She was also very strong in stressing the importance of the school working in close partnership with the parish, for the good of all the children in the school. She offered an excellent example of a parent taking a close interest in the education of her own children and in the development of Catholic education offered for the common good.
In another case, in the town of Milngavie, parents joined forces some months ago to oppose the local Council’s proposal to close the only Catholic school in town. They have argued a very strong case for retaining their school which was first established in 1873 and has a viable roll of 130 pupils. Why, they have asked, is East Dunbartonshire Council determined to close St Joseph’s and yet retain two non-denominational schools in the same town? The campaign in support of Catholic education, mounted by local parents, has been impressive. They are fighting, not only to preserve an important feature of the town’s history, but to ensure that parent in this community continue to have the choice of Catholic education in the local community. At the time of going to press, they still await the Council’s response.
In another part of the country parents are also mounting campaigns to ensure the survival of Catholic schools which face closure or merger as a result of proposals from North Lanarkshire Council. Representatives of the Diocese of Motherwell have attended a number of public meetings where parents have been responding to the Council’s proposals affecting primary schools in Coatbridge and Airdrie, as well as the two Catholic High schools in Motherwell. Chief among the questions rightly being asked by parents is: why is our Catholic school being removed from our local community? For many parents, the attraction of a new school building will not compensate for the loss of their local school and the forced realignment of school catchment areas which will cause considerable inconvenience to many.
The voice of parents has certainly being listened to by both Dioceses as they prepared their own responses to these proposals. A key concern for the Church in such cases will always be to ensure that parents are able to access Catholic schools on an equitable basis with parents who wish to choose a non-denominational school. Let us hope that local politicians and officials listen to the views of the communities and respond positively.
Another excellent example of parents playing their part in Catholic education is the work of the Parental Involvement Working Group which we have established. This small group of parents – from every Diocese in the country – has been developing resources to support parents, particularly to understand what is distinctive about a Catholic school and to plan how they can play their part in supporting it appropriately. Already the group has helped to galvanise members of Parent Councils in responding to Scottish Parliament petitions which have called for an end to current arrangements for religious observance in schools and for the removal of the Church’s right to have representatives on local Council Education Committees.
Recently they have been helping to develop Parents’ resources which will be part of God’s Loving Plan, the new document which will guide the teaching in Catholic Primary schools about the human body, relationships and Marriage. Without doubt this particular approach, formed on Catholic teaching, will stand far apart from the approaches promoted by some Health Boards and Councils, often in opposition to the wishes of parents. So, it is critical that parents are helped to understand what the Church actually teaches and why their children will benefit from this teaching.
Before the end of this school session our Parents’ group is organising a seminar for parents on the impact of Religious Education on children, learning from a recent report, sharing their own experiences and calling for due attention to be given to religious education in all schools. We hope that many parents will show their interest in this important issue by turning out in good numbers for this seminar on the morning of Saturday 14th June in the Xavier Centre at Carfin Grotto.
In October 2013 Pope Francis spoke about the unique importance of families, not only for the Church, but for the world today. He showed his understanding of the pressures on families, and on parents in particular, and made a special plea to parents to keep God’s presence alive in their families through prayer: “The family which experiences the joy of faith communicates it naturally. That family is the salt of the earth and the light of the world, it is the leaven of society.” Let us pray that our families can be salt for the earth and light for the world.