Monday, July 23, 2018

Headteachers' Conference

HEADTEACHER AS GOOD SHEPHERD: The model for any Catholic headteacher is Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, suggested Archbishop Leo Cushley to nearly 80 headteachers drawn from across the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh, 22 May.

“My dear headteachers, let me say it clearly: your role is unique in the local church. You are leaders. You are shepherds, sharing in the mission of the Good Shepherd Himself,” said the Archbishop.

“Know always that I am personally very grateful for all that you do for our dear young people. And I look forward to continuing to build a close relationship, as good shepherds and willing co-workers in the service of the young people placed in our care.”

The headteachers were gathered for a one-day conference on Catholic education in Edinburgh, hosted by the Archdiocese. Appropriately, proceedings began with prayer led by Deacon John Smith, Head of Schools for the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh.

Archbishop Cushley’s contribution was followed by an address by Frank Lennon, former Rector of St Modan’s High in Stirling, who explored the issue of “Headship in Catholic Schools in the New National Context”.

Following lunch, the conference concluded with a presentation from Barbara Coupar, Director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, on the topic of “The Legacy of the 1918 Act and the Role of the Catholic Education Service Today”.

Those present were also introduced to Eileen Rafferty, presently the headteacher of St Anthony’s Primary in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire, who will soon assume the post of Religious Education Advisor for the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh, a job that will see her give support to the Archdioceses’ 10 secondary schools and 70 primary schools. Archbishop Cushley's address is reproduced in full below:




22 MAY 2018


Address by the Most Rev. Leo Cushley

Archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh


1. As we mark this year the one hundredth anniversary of the 1918 Education Act in Scotland, it is proper and fitting that we reflect on the role of the catholic school in the life of the Church and of society. The Catholic Church has a long tradition of being involved in education. Until the Reformation, almost all schools and universities were church schools. Many of the oldest schools were established by monasteries and the oldest universities, as you know, were Church foundations. We owe a great debt to the religious Congregations and Orders who founded many of our schools and trained generations of teachers, and who continue to give their support to the mission of the Church in education.

The 1918 Education Act saw Catholic schools transfer from Diocesan control to State governance. Since entering into this partnership between Church and State we have been required to work together as a Catholic community to address the challenges and opportunities that such a partnership presents. This mission in education has always taken place in a testing and challenging environment, and today is no different. We take heart from the fact that the Catholic Church is involved in the mission of education across the world and that we currently have schools in every country in the world where the Church is not persecuted.

2. Catholic schools have a history which shows how they have grown in strength and success, especially since 1918. Today they remain popular and held in esteem for their good examination results and discipline. However, it is also true to say that their mission as Catholic schools is being challenged as never before. The number of families practising their faith is declining so that, for many of our children and their families, the Catholic school is now virtually the only contact they have with the Church. In such an atmosphere, it is right that we should review and evaluate how best to fulfil our mission into the future. The Second Vatican Council stated that not only was the ‘School of outstanding importance’ but that we should ‘spare no sacrifice’ in supporting and building it up (Gravissimum Educationis). So, I wanted to speak to you today in that spirit of wanting the best for our children. I warmly thank you, our Headteachers, for all you are doing in our schools. And I am glad to be able to take this opportunity to share with you some thoughts around the mission of the Catholic school in our diocese and the vision that underpins all our work.


3. Catholic education is a fundamental element of the mission of the Catholic Church. The Catholic school, then, shares with the whole Church the mission to make Christ known to all peoples. The school assists parents in their task as the first educators of their children, forming the young in partnership with the home. In fulfilling this role, the Catholic school stands in an essential alliance and collaboration with the local church, that is the archdiocese and its parishes. Similarly, the school serves the whole of society, forming the young and helping them to grow not only into successful learners and confident individuals, but also into responsible citizens, and effective contributors to society.

4. In sharing in the mission of the universal Church and being in partnership with the local church – the archdiocese and parish – the school is an essential ‘member’ as it were of the Body of Christ. The parish and the school have their own particular context. The school does not replace the parish but rather stands alongside as an invaluable co-worker. The parish is the beating heart of the local church, making Christ present in the community through prayer, the Sacraments – especially the Sunday Eucharist – and the lives of the faithful people. The Catholic school reaches out into the lives and homes of families, bringing Christ into the hearts of many who otherwise would not hear the words of the Gospel nor experience the invitation to meet Christ face to face. The Catholic school creates the ‘space’ for such an encounter to happen.

5. As an educational establishment which is a ‘member’ of Christ’s Church, the Catholic school endeavours to educate the whole person within a Catholic community life. This is the vision that drives a Catholic school – and it encompasses a number of essential aspects. Firstly, the community of the school is founded upon Christ and is at the service of the Gospel. These two pillars underpin and guide every aspect of life. Secondly, our idea of what education should be, and the definition of what it is to be a human person, are concepts which are informed by the teaching of the Church, not by the prevailing fashions or attitudes of society: thus, we see education as the drawing out of gifts, the formation, training and bringing to maturity of the human being who is understood as an intellectual, physical, moral and spiritual person. Thirdly, the content of education is informed by the faith of the Church: thus, we are able to say confidently who God is, what is the purpose of human life and culture collectively and individually, and which values should underpin human culture and progress. Education is always achieved within a context of values. In the Catholic school those values are – naturally - those of the Catholic Faith.


6. In the Catholic school, it is not simply that we educate, but that we educate according to a philosophy and vision which is drawn from the Gospel and the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Faith is seen as integral to what it is to educate the whole person. Through our Catholic schools, the Catholic community unashamedly offers a values-based approach to education. By definition, this approach is confessional – because our values are gospel values and they are taken from what we believe to be divine revelation. They are therefore objective and non-negotiable values like wisdom, compassion, justice, integrity (by the way, those four words are engraved on the Scottish Mace in Holyrood) honesty, charity, generosity, purity – not necessarily in conflict with the core values of our present society, but nevertheless presented in a coherent and holistic vision which has God’s revelation in Christ as the central unifying principle. These values are the basis for our whole approach to education, they suffuse all that we do in our schools, and they account for something notoriously difficult to define - but nevertheless very real – that famous Catholic ethos which sets our schools apart and which makes them so desirable. These values are good values, they are good for the individual and they are good for society. We are not ashamed, therefore, of this values-based approach to education. In fact, we believe that such an approach gives our young people a moral framework out of which to be and live their lives to the profit of the whole of society.

7. One way to define the Catholic ethos of a school is as the outward signs and common experiences of the life and teachings of the Church in the school setting. Such signs seek to express the presence of Christ and communicate the good news of the gospel. Our schools must really endeavour to embody and actualize in practical terms those Gospel Values which define our lives as Catholics. This ethos is experienced primarily through persons, through the witness of those who seek to live a genuine, authentic Christian life. In order for the Catholic ethos to be strong, our leaders - you - are called to be persons who live as authentic witnesses to the Catholic faith. Ethos is also expressed through signs. We erect crucifixes, statues, signs and displays which witness to Christ and the Church. Our practices serve the Catholic ethos when they follow the life and rhythm of the Church’s seasons, marked by the feasts and fasts, and holidays and celebrations of the liturgical year of the Church. The Mass is a common and integral part of school life, confessions are offered and encouraged, and young people encouraged to experience the life of their local parish. In the same way, the ethos is strengthened and underpinned when our policies seek to reflect the ethical teachings of the Church, and the structure of the buildings is designed, where possible, to allow for prayer spaces and a chapel.


8. Since our schools are primarily places of education and have been established by the Church to assist the parents as first educators of their children, we strive to make them as successful as we possibly can. Our academic aspirations should be of the highest order. At the heart of this educational endeavour, at its core, is the teaching of Religious Education. If our schools are to be truly Catholic, those who teach in them and those who govern them have to accept and abide by the teaching of the Catholic Church. This requirement does not demand that every teacher in a Catholic school lives a perfect Christian life. We all fail to live up to our gospel values to a greater or lesser extent; but what it does demand is that all who teach and govern in Catholic schools embrace those values and doctrines as ideals which they support, promote and strive to live up to. Since it is our clear vision that the Catholic school shares in the mission of the universal Church and assists parents as first educators of their children, we are confident about what is to be taught in Religious Education, how it is to be taught and why we teach it. Content-based religious education with a recognition of the importance of solid catechesis within religious education is essential to serve this vision. At the end of 12 years of Catholic education every child is entitled to have received a coherent explanation of the core teachings of the Catholic Faith. Not just what the Church teaches but why the Church teaches it. In the modern Areopagus in which we all live, they ought also to be able to articulate it, at least to some extent.

9. So perhaps it might useful here to identify what the purpose of Religious Education is in the Catholic school. For our schools, Religious Education cannot be simply a ‘subject’ on the primary or secondary school curriculum. It cannot be a simple survey of all religions in their teaching and practice. This would merely be lessons in comparative religion, or an approach to religion “from outside”. Our approach needs to be from inside, “from within”. We explore religion from the point of view of faith, which we believe is a much more consistent starting point than one which claims neutrality. This method is not proselytising in the sense of coercing faith. This would be against our very core values. It is rather one which sees the teaching of Religious Education as having the potential to be an experience of evangelisation and catechesis. It holds this potential because of its content and the context in which it is taught. The content or subject matter of Religious Education is Jesus Christ and the Good News He brings. The context is one which is best described as a community where the Catholic Faith is lived and practised. In Catholic schools the ‘Good News’ is experienced by all who make up the school community and it is offered to every person with an invitation to respond.

10. When we talk of Evangelisation here, we mean the proclamation of the Gospel. The purpose of Evangelisation is to touch the hearts of the hearers and turn them to God. The teacher of Religious Education therefore has to trusts that his or her word and example will, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, move others to either a first act of faith or, in the case of those who are already believers, will deepen the conversion of their hearts to God.

11. Catechesis, meanwhile, should be understood as the process by which the faith of believers is nourished and educated. As one of the Church’s central ministries, it seeks to make the word of God present as a living reality in the Christian community of today. It may be described as ‘a dialogue of believers’. Its purpose is to help believers towards a greater maturity of faith, especially in the way of understanding.

12. Thirdly, Religious Education is the formation of religiously literate young people who have the knowledge, understanding and skills – appropriate to their age and capacity – to think spiritually, ethically and theologically, and who are aware of the demands of religious commitment in everyday life. Every Religious Education lesson must always be an educational exercise of the highest quality and skill taught by appropriately trained and qualified Catholic teachers. It may also be a moment of evangelization if it is being heard for the first time by some members of the class and touches their hearts. It may also be a moment of catechesis if it nourishes those in the class who are already believers. The Religious Education teacher is called to be a teacher of the highest order, while at the same time acting as ‘evangelist’ and ‘catechist’ depending on those who are being taught.


13. If we seek to defend the principle of Catholic education in this way, not by some humanistic defensive attitude, but out of an unashamed promotion of the principle; and if we seek to promote our Catholic schools by making them more integrally (not less) Catholic, then we can be assured that we will grow in confidence and commitment to the unique mission of the catholic school in the Church and in society.

14. In order to do this, we need to continue to work together and indeed deepen our collaboration. I believe we have a shared vision and purpose. We have a common love for our schools. There is one Lord whom we all serve. This key characteristic, our commonality, is best described by the word “solidarity”. United with everyone in - our somewhat scattered - archdiocese and with each other, we serve the same vocation to bring Christ to all people. We do this is in different ways and for different people, but we do it with a sense of unity with our parishes, with the other Catholic schools and with all the people and clergy of the archdiocese. We are different ‘members’ of the One Body serving the many children of the One Father. This gives us a real sense of family and urges us to work together in trust and collaboration. No school should become isolated or feel unsupported. As an archdiocesan family, therefore, we must seek to secure structures and strategies to provide assistance, guidance and support.

15. While having this great sense of solidarity, we value the distinct ‘personality’ of each individual school community. This ‘personality’ grows out of the particular people, context and setting of the local community that the school serves. And so we naturally respect the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ which encourages local responsibility and decision making. That is why the leaders of our schools have an essential role in making the common vision a real, lived experience in each school community. You, our headteachers, are the essential link between your particular school and the wider archdiocesan family. You are the ones who are instrumental in making our solidarity a real strength, while holding responsibility for subsidiarity. You are my closest co-workers and collaborators in the field of education.


16. Our Catholic schools present us with an exceptional opportunity to educate future generations according to the mind of Christ and the teachings of the Church. They provide an opportunity for the holistic formation of our young people, to love God and to serve their fellow men and women in our society - and even to be the next generation of evangelisers in our world. Our schools offer us, as a Church, a most effective and most valuable way to be the leaven in the midst of the dough. This is more necessary now than ever before; and the school is a central means by which we can reach out to serve God’s people. We can take the initiative and bring Christ to them, and begin to bring them - not send them, but bring them, ourselves, to Christ.

17. As we conclude, my dear headteachers, let me say it clearly: your role is unique in the local church. You are leaders. You are shepherds, sharing in the mission of the Good Shepherd Himself. I know what that feels like, because I too have been called to be a shepherd. In fact, here we are today, talking as “shepherd to shepherds”. Not for nothing does St Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, list the vocation of “Pastors and teachers” in the same breath (cf. Eph 4:11), because you and I have a similar mission, and therefore a similar responsibility. It is a wonderful one, but it is also a grave one. So be assured today that I want to assist you as you feed and guide the most vulnerable lambs of Christ’s flock. And, as we begin the next century of Catholic schooling, I invite you to work ever more closely with me and the archdiocesan schools team. I ask for your support and good will, and occasionally your patience too! And in turn I offer you my support and good will, and I undertake to do all I can to assist you in your vocation.

Finally, know always that I am personally very grateful for all that you do for our dear young people. And I look forward to continuing to build a close relationship, as good shepherds and willing co-workers in the service of the young people placed in our care.

Thank you very much, and God bless you.