New Boards of Management for Catholic Schools
Our parish primary schools are preparing for new Boards of Management which will be established by 1 December.
As part of the process of setting up these Boards, the Catholic Schools Partnership published research conducted with principals, teachers, priests, pupils and pastoral council members.
So what do people think of Catholic schools? The findings of the research can be summarised as follows:
- The Catholic primary school is still valid and valued today and its ethos and values remain relevant in modern Ireland.
- While it is accepted that there will be fewer Catholic schools in the future, there is still a strong desire to preserve the Catholic school identity.
- A clear definition of the Catholic school that fits with a modern and sophisticated society needs to be articulated.
- Parents should have a choice in the type of school they send their children to and this right applies equally to parents wishing for a Catholic education for their children.
- The more pertinent question in respect of parental choice was how that choice might be provided.
- Participants believed that a stronger, more committed Catholic school could emerge as a result of greater diversity of education provision.
While articulating their firm commitment to and vision for the future of Catholic primary schools, participants' conversations also highlighted many issues that needed attention if this was to be realised. The main challenges that lie ahead for both the Church and the Catholic school were identified as follows;
- The need to adopt a strategic, coherent plan that will address the difficulty of reduced clergy numbers and also involve the laity fully in parish management was considered to be of urgent concern.
- Systemic weakness at parish level is putting the relationship between the school and parish under considerable strain. The implementation of sustainable systems at this level should be addressed as a matter of priority.
- Sacramental preparation in schools and parishes is viewed as problematic. Many principals and teachers feel over-burdened and unsupported in the task of sacramental preparation.
- Some parents are not taking responsibility for their children's faith formation. If structures were put in place in the parish, measures could be taken to tend to adult (parent) faith development, which might go some way to addressing this issue.
- Concern was expressed at the depth of teachers' knowledge of the faith in respect of the sacraments and in particular, the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Consensus on many different themes was evident from all the discussions. These might be grouped under the following headings:
Identity of Catholic schools
- The Catholic school has unique identifiable characteristics and is considered valid and valued in modern Ireland.
- The Catholic school is inclusive and continues to meet the needs of the local community, in particular, the needs of the marginalised in our society.
- The primacy of parents' role in the faith development of their children was recognised. Some parents need to reflect seriously on this responsibility.
- Parents' right to choose the type of school for their children was acknowledged.
- Provision of school choice was perceived to be achievable in urban areas, whereas this was not considered to be the case for rural areas.
- Catholic schools continue to do a very good job in the face of significant challenges to the evangelising mission of schools.
- The Church has a responsibility to support teachers' faith development.
- There is need for a major review of the Religious Education programme.
- Parish systems need urgent attention if they are to be sustained into the future.
- Sacramental preparation in schools and parishes needs systemic review.
- Programmes to support adult faith development need to be devised.
- Leadership and communication within the Catholic Church needs to be improved.
- The Catholic school can be re-launched with a more contemporary image.
- Care needs to be taken to ensure Catholic schools don't become elitist.