Sunday, 19 August 2018

Being Catholic

Back in July, I had two articles published:
These were in part, a response to the Clarke/Woodhead pamphlet entitled A New Settlement Revised, but also in preparation for the final report of the Comission on RE report due later in the year. They also reflected thinking about the direction of some voices in RE, and organisations involved in the campaign for change in RE.

It is always hard to share ideas within a short word limit, and I was grateful last year to get the chance to write more extensively on this topic in a collection of essays, entitled We Need To Talk About RE where I discussed the future of Catholic RE. At this stage, I think it is useful to copy an extract, from the middle of the chapter:
If the Commission [- or anyone!] were to recommend a common baseline entitlement for all schools, including schools with a religious character, then it is very likely that the RE curricula of Catholic schools would already be in compliance with it. But since one of the conditions of the partnership between Church and state is the right of the Bishops to set the curriculum in Catholic schools, then any statutory imposition of just such a common baseline is potentially highly problematic. Of course, given what has already be said, this will only be a problem in principle, not in practice. Nonetheless the principle is a fundamental and non-negotiable one for the Catholic Church in England. It is hoped that a way forward can be found that ensures outstanding Religious Education for all without backing the Bishops into a corner where they have no other option but to oppose something that, in every detail but one, they would otherwise welcome and support.
When I wrote the two articles, I knew that I would receive criticism - and personal attack. I did have some hesitation as some of my good friends within the wider RE world, who I have tremendous respect for, have been involved in the Clarke/Woodhead project, and the Comission on RE. However, I felt an important comment needed to be made about keeping Catholic RE, and Catholic schools distinct. Despite some of the comments I received, it is not because I want Bishop Alan of Brentwood to dictate every detail that I teach! 

I did find it frustrating when people were tweeting about my articles, accusing me of all kinds of things (creating "fake news" was my favourite) and knowingly not including my Twitter handle, so I couldn't respond. Also the use of subtweeting, so discussions could not be followed, stopped some of the genuine debate about this. It was also odd how some people said I was speaking on behalf of the Bishops of England and Wales - I am just an RE teacher, but committed Catholic, speaking on these matters. The CES had already made their statement via Bishop Stock. However, perhaps the thing that made me most upset was how some claimed that the Catholic Church was trying to derail the whole process of RE reform for all. I admit my articles were made quickly after the publication of the Clarke/Woodhead pamphlet was published, but that is how the press and news works. Personal blogs, can obviously benefit from longer periods of reflection. However, the only thing I'd perhaps change is headlines, which I didn't write... (despite them being quoted back at me!)

I do think that RE needs reform. I have passionately argued this for many years. As much as I work in a Catholic school, I have worked in many non-Catholic schools helping to improve RE. I have also written not only textbooks for Catholic schools, but also as part of the Knowing Religion team. As someone who engages in social media, I am also fully aware of the issues in RE. I also think it needs a collective strength, but with solutions that work for all. 

We currently have a dual system of schools in the country, whereby schools can have a religious character. As long as this remains, there needs to be a solution to RE that is not a "one size fits all". As I mentioned in my Herald article, I have seen the proposals put forward by the CES to the Comission on RE that suggests what I personally feel to be a workable and sensible solution to this 'problem'. I do believe that if we (society) want to abolish the right of the Bishops to determine RE in Catholic schools, one of the few legal things that makes the schools distinctive, then we need to end faith schools. This is exactly what some people want, and being clear in this argument would be more helpful, rather than dress it up as an RE debate. 

I'd suggest you read my chapter in We Need To Talk About RE to get a full understanding of the current and future position of Catholic RE. Let's make it clear, the Catholic community have widely engaged over the last few years, providing solutions and suggestions of ways to make legal reform work. They are absolutely not trying to stop the process. They are just trying to keep Catholic schools distinct, reflecting their long protected legal position, history and contribution to education in this country. Conflict within the RE world, which is small, is not helpful. Let's focus on the common ground, accept what is workable, and what is not, and work together for better RE for all - one of the few aims (I think) we can all agree on.

I look forward to further discussion of these articles, with friends, colleagues and Twitter critics over the next few months. We may have to agree to disagree, mind!


If you want to find out more about me as a passionate supporter of Catholic education, you can listen to an interview that I did with the brilliant Jonathan Doyle below: 

0:00 Intro

6:32 Why did you study theology at University?
10:27 How were you drawn towards Catholic Ministry?
17:08 What makes a good Catholic Teacher?
25:41 Why catechesis and curriculum matter
30:57 How should Catholic Teachers deal with difficult questions?
33:14 Why do you care so much about what you do?
36:46 What works for young people in moving from academics to the experiential
41:46 How do you sustain what you do?
45:17 What is Andy’s Vocation?
48:12 What is the essence of Catholic Education?

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