Catholic education in Scotland is secure for as long as parents understand and are committed to the particular form of education which Catholic schools offer. Head Teachers of Catholic schools have been encouraged by the Church for many years now to demonstrate how the education of young people in the faith and values of our Catholic Christian tradition makes a distinctive and significant contribution to the welfare of Scottish society. The evidence indicates that parents continue to avail themselves of this choice, although we must work harder to ensure that we do not take such commitment for granted. Under the auspices of the Catholic Education Commission, work is already underway to help parents to understand and appreciate the unique benefits of Catholic education.
All Catholic schools in Scotland include children from other faiths and none, and they are no less Catholic for doing so. Indeed, it could be argued that this requires them to be more ‘evangelical’ in their approach, explaining more explicitly how their values, practices and traditions are based on the Gospel. Similarly, a Catholic school which shares facilities with a non-denominational school must take the opportunity to show quite clearly that its educational approach is distinctively faith-based, that Christ is at the heart of the school and that the school culture, or ethos, is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
In reality, of course, the reasons for the development of shared campus provision has been finance-driven. In a relatively small number of cases Dioceses have agreed to a shared campus where pupil numbers could not justify the building of a new stand-alone Catholic school. But such arrangements are few, relative to the overall provision of Catholic schools in Scotland and, despite some gloomy predictions, they have not prevented new stand-alone schools being built.
Of course, some politicians have tried to claim that the main justification for shared campus schools is to promote greater tolerance and understanding among children. The Church refutes this view because it implies that there is something inherently wrong in offering a choice of educational provision. Such an argument flies in the face of society’s current valuing of myriad forms of equality and diversity.
Politicians usually espouse views which are politically convenient to them at particular times. Sometimes they can be persuaded, through extensive lobbying, to express views which emerge from informed sources and are expressed in measured terms. Over the years the Church has been proactive in helping politicians, at local and national levels, to recognise the true value of Catholic education and to recognise its worth. Undoubtedly, this lobbying has had a positive impact at times but we will always need to do more.
The people whose opinions matter most, though, are the parents who choose education for their children. The Church needs to focus on ensuring that parents fully understand the great worth of Catholic schools which are engaged in the vital task of “opening hearts and minds to God”, a task which the Holy Father calls on parents, teachers and clergy to re-embrace in this Year of Faith. It would be a tragedy if parents were to become complacent about the worth of Catholic schools or if they were lulled into accepting the secular view that that the hearts and minds of children should be closed off to God.