1. It is no part of the normal function of the State to teach.
2. The State is entitled to see that citizens receive due education sufficient to enable them to discharge the duties of citizenship in its various degrees.
3. The State, ought, therefore, to encourage every form of sound educational endeavour, and may take means to safeguard the efficiency of education.
4. To parents whose economic means are insufficient…it is the duty of the State to furnish the necessary means …from the common funds arising out of the taxation of the whole country. But in doing so the State must not interfere with parental responsibility, nor hamper the reasonable liberty of parents in their choice of a school for their children. Above all, where the people are not all of one creed, there must be differentiation on the ground of religion.
5. Where there is need of greater school accommodation, the State may, in default of other agencies, intervene to supply it; but it may do so only “in default of, or in substitute for, and to the extent of, the responsibility”…
6. The teacher is always acting in loco parentis, never in loco civitatis though the State; to safeguard its citizenship, may take reasonable care to see that teachers are efficient.
7. Thus a teacher is not and never can be a civil servant… Whatever authority he may possess to teach and control children, and to claim their respect and obedience, comes to him from God, through the parents and not through the State, except in so far as the State is acting on behalf of the parents.
Caution and Compromise in 1999
The 1999 edition of the Catholic Education Service’s (CES) Evaluating the Distinctive Nature of the Catholic School acknowledges the supportive role of Catholic schools towards parents in its introduction (Part 1). But the next mention of the primacy of parents is in the sixth sub-section of “Part 2: The Mission of the Catholic School”. Here, under “Home, School and Parish”, a spirit of “collaboration” is mentioned and the “Church”
teaching that parents are the “first teachers” (not “primary educators”) is explained as “underlin(ing) the role and responsibility of parents within the home as the place where faith is formed and nurtured.”
It is a very toned down version of the above 1929 Declaration and 1983 Canon Law. Indeed the document’s acknowledgement of the risk of secular influence within Catholic Education is rather vague (and a slight grammatical non-sequitur):
“Catholic schools and colleges in England and Wales are at the interface of many different understandings of life, of society, and of education. Perhaps the most challenging of these (sic) is the contrast (sic) between the Christian approach to education which is based on the understanding of all life as God’s gift, and a general approach to education which does not openly acknowledge any religious values.” (p.8)
Most importantly the tone of Canon Law is miles apart from the reality of what is happening in the English Catholic maintained schools system. Below I will discern a link between this reality and the CES’s lack of focus upon the basic principles of Catholic education in recent years. (I am not here discussing Catholic independent schools, which cater for less than ten per cent of our young people).
I intend argue the following three points: First, these maintained schools are, in general, not even attempting to teach the integral Catholic faith, let alone successfully doing so. The officially approved textbooks are such that if pupils committed every page to memory they would not know even the most basic Catholic truths. Secondly, so-called “Sex education” is widespread in English Catholic primary schools in direct contradiction to explicit and repeated bans on it from the Holy See. In secondary schools, the “sex education” is sometimes indistinguishable from that in the local comprehensive: condoms are displayed, , guest speakers are invited to give talks on morally sensitive without being vetted, and pupils may be referred to family-planning services without the knowledge of parents, let alone their consent.
Thirdly, in terms, of structures, Catholic governors used to have complete control of the three important elements in any school: the curriculum; the admission of pupils; and the appointment of teachers. Legislation has in recent years removed such control in each of these areas without the Catholic authorities putting up any fight. In some cases, the Catholic Education Service (CES),
has actually urged the government to take away from governors powers that even a Labour government would have left with them, such as the right to interview parents before admitting a child in order to help to determine the extent of Catholic practice. As for employment law, it has become a minefield. If the government’s so-called anti-discrimination law goes ahead, and Catholic ‘resistance’ continues to be feeble, then it may well be impossible for Catholic governors not to appoint, for example, a practising homosexual. And when even the theoretical Catholicity of appointees can longer be guaranteed nor can the Catholicity of our “Catholic” schools.
Teaching the Faith
The decline in the basic knowledge of our faith, especially among the young, in recent decades is a fact hard to dispute. Its general social and intellectual causes and its specific presence within Catholic education have been elucidated in this and other publications quite a bit. For my part I would just put the current situation in an historical context.
In terms of doctrine, the old catechism was not just a method, it was a syllabus used throughout the world, incorporating formulations made by the great Councils. Priests, parents, teachers all knew it and reinforced its teaching. Soon after the Second Vatican Council, for no good reason, the catechism stopped being used in Catholic schools. England had no single replacement. Many schools introduced the Dutch Catechism. This was based on the good idea of attempting to offer a new and seminally synthetic vision of the Faith. However, in line with a lot of the 'New Theology', it diverged so much from authoritative Catholic teaching that a usually reticent Rome demanded many changes in its text before it could be called an 'official' Catechism. In fact the demanded changes were just tacked on the end of the published, promulgated and widely used version. It was all too little too late.
Modern Text Books, Outdated Methodology
Then for years, there were no RE books produced for Catholic secondary schools. We had mere syllabuses: the Lance syllabus of the late 1960s, and the Konstant Syllabus of the 1970s. Heads and governors were pleading with the English hierarchy for books. Eventually, the “National Project” produced the notorious Weaving the Web. It was to understanding the teaching of the Catholic faith what the Keystone cops were to passing the driving test. It was not even a serious attempt to teach the basics. It has eventually been replaced by a book called Icons which is just as bad and which has aptly been called “Son of Weaving the Web”. It has little eschatology; no mention of concepts like ‘soul’ or ‘grace’; plenty about the new sins of sexism and homophobia, unknown to the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, or to Our Blessed Lord Himself.
There is an analogy with what happened to the teaching of the three Rs in the sixties. The idea was that teachers need not formally teach children to read and write and do basic arithmetic; somehow they would pick it up for themselves. This was a disaster and at least some moves are now being made to restore actual teaching. Not so in RE, where the same repugnance was expressed about actually teaching anyone anything. Yet we are talking about a Revealed Religion. Icons and Here I Am for primary schools, which does not even have a pupil’s book are pure nineteen sixties in their methodology.
No Catholic Exam Syllabus
Bad as are the books used up to the age of 13, the situation is even worse after that age. There is no national syllabus at all and no Catholic textbook. Almost all Catholic secondary schools put their pupils in for a religious GCSE examination. But there is no Catholic examination, nor any Catholic authority supervising the examination. There are “Catholic” papers but they make no attempt to test Catholic doctrine thoroughly: why should they? On subjects like abortion, some examination boards specifically make it necessary to put “both sides of the argument”. With some boards, entrants cannot even use a Catholic Bible.
The books used as pupil textbooks, in contradiction to Canon Law, usually carry no imprimatur. In my experience they are very weak, and not just doctrinally but educationally poor. Let me give a quotation from a Hodder and Stoughton book, widely used in my experience, Issues and Beliefs in the Catholic Faith. “Although no one can be sure, it is thought that about 10 per cent of the population (6 per cent of men and 4 per cent of women) are homosexual.” Quite apart from the gross exaggeration in this statement and the wooliness of “it is thought”, just think about the mathematics. The author has perpetrated a classic mathematical howler. If the figures for men and women are true (6 and 4 per cent respectively) then the actual figure overall, if men and women are roughly equal in the population, will be 5 per cent.
No other subject on the curriculum would be allowed
to get away with this inexcusable error which insults children, not just since there is a basic mistake of mathematics, but because no actual verifiable figures are provided—anything will do in a book about RE. Moreover, Catholicism rejects categorizing a person by the particular type of erotic temptation they happen to suffer from.
When The Catechism of the Catholic Church was published it seemed like the answer to prayer. Cardinal Hume commended it and said that every Catholic teacher should have a copy. That has not happened. Here is a test: when you go into a school, ask how many copies of The Catechism there are in total; all schools need copies for their teachers plus, at the very least, a set of 30 for use in class teaching. The recent Compendium of the Catechism has been similarly sidelined by the catechetical apparatchiks. The Holy Father said it is for all Catholics, but again you will struggle to find a single copy in many Catholic schools. Yet it is a gift from God. It can, and should, be used as a textbook, not only with all ages in secondary schools, but with primary schools children, too.
The religious inspections that schools are subject to are not only useless for ensuring that the Faith is taught properly, I would suggest that they are positively harmful. A concession was obtained from OFSTED that the Catholic sector be allowed to inspect its own RE. The people carrying out this inspection are those authorised by the catechetical 'experts' of the local diocese. They do not, as in the diocesan inspections of old, ask the children searching questions to find out what they know, they just look at syllabuses and procedures. They are quite different from any other inspections and lack rigour.
Even worse, the people who authorise the inspectors influence the schools unduly. There was a notorious case in one Archdiocese, as reported in the Catholic Herald in July 2002, where, according to the CTS General
Secretary, a diocesan “Director of Religious Education and Inspection alerted the diocesan religious advisers that they were not to recommend” The Way, The Truth and The Life from the diocese of Birmingham. Instead the Icons scheme, with its widely acknowledged inferior presentation of Catholic doctrine, was prescribed. Any Ofsted inspector who as much as recommended a particular book would be sacked.
The Real Presence
I assert—as one who taught before and after the sixties revolution—that, in practice, what the Church is teaching now in actual practice in actual classrooms has radically changed.
One obvious example of this is knowledge of the Real Presence among the ever dwindling amount of young people who come to Mass. It is not emphasized in the books they use at school. Many young Catholics, to all intent and purposes, do not believe in the Real Presence. Surveys show this, but any reader can verify it through some judicious questioning of an average teenage Churchgoer (let alone the multitudes who do not go): for example “What is given out at Communion?”, or “What is in the Tabernacle?”. Answers such as “Holy bread” or “Blessed bread” will count as a failure to have imbibed Catholic teaching on this point. By their fruits you will know them.
Moreover if you happen to observe these youngsters at the consecration and going up to Communion, one might consider whether their demeanour suggests that they realy know they are receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Blessed Lord.
In my childhood, the Catholic culture that pervaded all from the classroom through the catechism to Sunday Mass clearly taught this reality. We genuflected carefully every time we passed the tabernacle, we knelt to receive Holy Communion and we knelt when we returned to our bench. There was no chewing in church, no mobile phones, of course, no running, no talking before the Blessed Sacrament. Vast processions of the Blessed Sacrament with an altar server giving out incense and girls strewing rose petals before the monstrance carried by a priest under a canopy held by four reverent men, weekly benediction with our heads bent low; “Truly this is the Son of God” we could say since we all lived this belief. Is it surprising that the young today do not believe in the Real Presence? And if they don’t, why on earth bother come to Mass? Why bother being a priest?
Another example would be the lack of teaching of the Four Last Things, including the real possibility of going to Hell after judgment. The average Catholic funeral must seem to a young person to be a kind of instant canonisation. The emotional 'needs' of the mourners seem to trump praying earnestly that the soul of the departed may be open to the life-giving mercy of God. Most of our text books and teachers blithely assume that everyone who dies goes to heaven. Perhaps what we used to know as “presumption” (a term unknown to those in our schools) is our greatest sin today. It is a sin against the Holy Spirit.
If one turns to sex education, the Church does not officially and substantially teach anything different from what it taught before the Council: that any information on that subject is virtually entirely the responsibility of the parents at the secondary age. These might ask for some help, while always maintaining control. Children of primary age must never be given sex education in groups, especially mixed groups. This is the official position of the Church. But many dioceses in England, through their recommended sex education policies, encourage governors to specify learning targets for children as young as five. In my experience this can easily involve the use of materials which would have earned their producers jail sentences not that long ago. One text recommended for infants in one diocese describes in detail, using the coarsest terms, the various kinds of homosexual physical relationships!
Significant Weaknesses in Current Programmes
The Birmingham Archdiocesan scheme How I Am, recently introduced to all its secondary schools, is praised as being especially moderate by Father John Fleming, an Australian bioethics professor and member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. But he also highlights significant weaknesses, for example: “Argumentation to justify fundamental Catholic and Christian positions on sex education is lamentably absent” and, it invokes “secular rhetoric in explaining the aim of understanding the Church’s teaching on contraception and pregnancy as becoming ‘able to make informed choices’”. Further, Fr Fleming highlights a fact sheet which, prefaced by a short, generic disclaimer, “mentions the right to counselling on ‘sexual health’, and that is code for abortion and contraception among other things. There is actually no moral right to such counselling, let alone counselling of children without parental consent. In the Catholic tradition, parents are the first educators of their children.” (cf, “Abortion and Sex Education” SPUC publications p.41)
It would constitute no excuse to say that Catholic schools were required by law to teach sex education in this way but, in any case, it is not required. In primary schools, governors are required to discuss sex education and to have a policy, but that policy can be that nothing is taught in the school. In secondary schools, the requirement is only to teach the National Curriculum, which is nothing horrific per se. Everything else is up to the governors. Yet the corruption of the young goes on.
The September 2006 edition of the ProLife Times, the SPUC newspaper, reports a Catholic primary school in one Archdiocese which has shown the Channel Four series Living and Growing. It has “explicit animations of sexual intercourse, accompanied by detailed verbal accounts of sex and masturbation with animated sequences showing sex and ejaculation.” In a Lancashire secondary school, the head of science was quoted in the local paper as saying this: “It’s terrible that kids are due to leave school when they are 16 and aren’t learning about where to get contraceptives… Now we go out and get the contraceptive
packs to show them.” The headmaster of the school, a priest who is a member of a religious order, confirmed that the school shows contraceptives to students. He also stated that the head of science had been “duped into talking to the local press and was quoted out of context.” What, one wonders, would be “in context”?
All the changes in the actual teaching of the Faith since the 1960s were accompanied by changes in English society and in education itself. These made things even worse. In the 1960s, the Harold Wilson Labour government forced secondary schools to become comprehensive and the Catholic system changed in a matter of years almost as if going comprehensive was something to be done “in the spirit of Vatican II”. Leaving aside the educational arguments about whether there ought or not to be grammar schools and selection, the actual process was a disaster for Catholic schools. Most of the Catholic grammar schools were direct grant, a wonderful system which meant that the school could be run as if it were an independent school while the local education authorities funded most of the pupils. As schools were 'comped some schools just closed; others were forcibly 'linked' with others perhaps miles away. Teachers were redeployed, leaving governors little control over appointments, and lowering the morale of the profession. The discipline for which our schools had been so famous was placed under strain.
All Catholic grammar schools were single sex; almost all comprehensives were co-educational. That change was never discussed philosophically, but was simply accepted as an inevitable part of going comprehensive. Very often, the key decisions were made by architects and surveyors based on the capacity of buildings. Sixth formers bolted out of the Catholic system into 'techs' or local authority sixth form colleges. Almost all the few Catholic grammar schools that remained became independent and entirely fee paying. Thus, ironically, socialism ensured that such schools, which were formerly open to all, were restricted to the children of the rich. Another irony was that most of the Catholic bishops had been educated at these very schools which they allowed to be closed or transformed.
Obstruction and from Within
The Thatcher years saw things become worse not, I believe, because the Conservatives disliked Church schools, but because the English Catholic Church had lost the vision and the will to resist. A senior Tory figure told me that exceptions for Catholic schools from the National Curriculum were there for the asking; but no one asked. The Tories left the admission policies untouched but they brought in the right of independent appeal that the Blair government gleefully exploited. There were, in fact, good policies that the Conservatives offered which the Church turned down. The system of grant-maintained schools would have been a tonic for Catholic schools. In these schools, all expenses were paid by the government leaving nothing to pay for the Catholic community.
Our ancestors would have seen it as the answer to prayer. Not so those in charge of Catholic education in the 1980s. They effectively banned it. One might assume that was because the government, giving more money to schools, wanted greater control. But it was just the opposite; grant maintained schools had far more autonomy than schools under the thumb of the local education authority. That was the drawback for the leaders of Catholic education. They valued their relationships with the local authorities and actually feared giving more autonomy to governors. This was an opportunity to develop Catholic schools as a service to our community, particularly Catholic parents. Furthermore it would have saved us a lot of money..
The Role of the Catholic Education Service
How different the history of Catholic education might have been if the bishops had decided that every Catholic maintained school should have become a grant maintained school! Only a few did and the Blair government abolished the system though it was willing to continue it for church schools; it was the Catholic Education Service who wanted the system scrapped. And so David Blunkett obliged. He also brought in tough new admissions policies. Incredibly, again the CES fought to make them even tougher.
One measure that has been a thorn in the side of our primaries is the ruling that no class may have over 30 pupils. That sounds good, but the government gave no more money. The measure simply stopped schools from organising in their own way. In 1998 the Conservative Party introduced an amendment in the House of Lords to exempt church schools. But the rug was pulled from under from this amendment by by the Catholic Education Service making it known that they did not accept it.
Ann Widdecombe’s defence of “the 31st child’s right to a Catholic education” received sympathy from the late Cardinal Hume but he told her he didn’t feel he could overrule his own CES. In those years, one wondered whose side the CES was on. Through the Freedom of Information Act I have obtained documents showing that in several crucial areas about admissions, the government was willing to make concessions but the CES argued for removing the rights of governors (see Appendix). The admission appeals panels were given absolute right to impose their judgements and there was no appeal against them. It has been rightly said that they have greater powers over admission in Catholic schools than the Pope.
The Pope cannot order any Catholic school to take a pupil but these panels can and do.
A disaster for all Catholic political influence was the publication in 1997 of the Bishops’ Conference document The Common Good. This said that there is nothing by itself so wrong—not even abortion, nor euthanasia—that Catholics should not vote for those who promoted it. Catholics were not to vote on “single issues” but to take an overall view. In other words, in considering who to vote for, no value counted absolutely. This document, in the view of some who have political knowledge, has done more damage to the Catholic Church in England than anything else since the Reformation. The Labour party breathed a sigh and realised that they could get away with anything; and they have.
The Last Straw?
As I write this, in September 2006, the already bad situation is becoming worse. For several years, the employment of Catholic teachers has been difficult. New legislation may quite likely make it impossible. Any discrimination by religion or “sexual orientation” may be forbidden. Cynically, the government currently intends to exempt political discrimination from its bill. The Labour Party would be able to recruit only its own members for any job it chooses, but Catholic Schools may have to employ those who openly defy its teachings. In admissions, Catholic schools are already forced to take non-Catholics if they “have room”.
There is now a move to force schools every year to take “quotas” of non-Catholics. This would mean that a popular school would have to turn away Catholics and give places to non-Catholics. There is a ray of hope in the fact that the CES has very recently promised to “robustly oppose” such a measure. Several local authorities, including big ones like Essex and Hertfordshire, are taking away free transport for Catholic schools, something the schools have had since before the Second World War. Catholic schools are now struggling for their very survival.
Teachers not to blame
In all that I have written, I do not criticize teachers and heads. They have been given the impossible task of making the educational bricks without even a ha’p’orth of straw. In the circumstances, many of them are trying heroically to keep up Catholic standards. It should be noted, too, that Catholic independent schools have not been subjected to most of the changes I have mentioned. That is why independent schools are often still strong Catholic schools. Even in the field of religious teaching, they have insisted on their independence by creating their own courses, which some have done brilliantly, or importing books from America or Australia. The Catholic paper for Common Entrance shows what can be done.
An Action Plan
Can anything be done to avert the great crisis? I advocate the following:
1. Someone at the highest level—that of Cardinal, say—should personally see Tony Blair. The Prime Minister should be told that if his government were to produce legislation which will force Catholic schools to employ openly practising homosexuals and such, then the Catholic Bishops will strongly and publicly oppose.If nothing happens to change things, then in as little as five years, outside the independent sector, there could be no truly Catholic schools remaining in England.
2. Lay groups should consider getting involved in such a campaign. Public protests can have an important place.
3. The Conservatives are looking for policies! Leading Bishops could appeal to the new Tory leader to adopt policies which would transform laws which handicap schools into optional recommendations, in order to win back essential freedoms. That might well make Labour tone down its attack.
4. The role of the Catholic Education Service needs radical reform. It has failed effectively to defend the intrinsic nature of Catholic education. It is very difficult to name a specific concrete fruit of its work.
5. The present religious inspections of schools should cease and schools should be inspected, as in the past, by those who know their faith and will put questions to children to see if they know and understand their faith.
6. There should be a national Catholic examination at the age of 16+. This must not be in the hands of the present catechetical bodies. It should be set by Rome. It should be on the lines of the old Catholic School Certificate of happy memory, with a number of short questions requiring basic answers and then some essays to reveal deeper knowledge.
7. Every teacher in every Catholic school should be given a copy of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, as the late Cardinal Hume requested. The Compendium should be used as a textbook with the higher age groups of primary schools and with all ages in secondary schools.
8. Most important of all, the Catholic Church in England should acknowledge that it is in a state of crisis it should repent and invoke the protection of Our Blessed Lady.