Thursday, 20 March 2008

Select Committee analysis

Thanks to Dr Tom Ward of the National Association of Catholic Families for this analysis (condensed) of the recent session of the Commons Select Committee for Schools meeting with the Bishop of Lancaster and others.
In the mind of the Committee the first issue was the elimination of selection of candidates for Faith schools which they considered to be to the disadvantage of “the poor”.
The measurements of poverty being used were the percentage of special-need pupils within the school and the uptake of free school dinners (Community schools 15%, Catholic schools 13.50 % and Church of England 11 %.). One had the distinct impression that the Committee had already formed the opinion that Faith schools were guilty of such discrimination.
The second leitmotiv of the Committee’s concern was ‘community cohesion’. On this, a list of specific mandatory proposals were sought from the academics on tightening up admission policy to Faith schools These were to spell out what schools must do rather than relying on prohibitions.
The clearest evidence was given by Professor Mark Halstead of the University of Leeds.
In answer to the question “In what sense can you blame Faith Schools for a failure of social cohesion?” Professor Halstead made the following points:
· Multiculturalism is the problem, not the Faith Schools.
· People, locally, were very suspicious of the government’s Community Cohesion policy.
· In the Bradford riots, there had not been one rioter from a Faith School.
· Young Moslems learnt to drink a bottle of vodka not at the mosque, not at home, but in the Community schools.
· What they learnt at Community schools caused a confusing conflict with the values both of their homes and the Mosque.
· Only 5-6% of Moslems go to Faith Schools.
Professor Halstead concluded firmly that Faith Schools could not be blamed for the lack of social cohesion.
Fiona Mc Taggart MP (Labour) expressed her concern that government policy on social cohesion was unpopular. ‘Did the teachers need more guidance on this, indeed did the policy need more resources?”, she asked. Professor Halstead replied that Faith groups were largely unaware of the government’s policy on social cohesion but believed that the issue was moral rather than political.
When challenged on whether Faith Schools used the prism of religion to view the issue of tolerance, Professor Halstead said that social cohesion is a problem of adults not of children. He believed that the key issue was education in moral values. He added that the teaching of moral education was taken very seriously in Moslem schools, whereas the teaching of morality was squeezed out in Community schools.
In reply to Fiona McTaggart’s question on whether Faith Schools were better at teaching tolerance, Professor Halstead replied that tolerance implied a framework of values as a starting point. To be tolerant you have to have your own values and, in this, Faith Schools had an advantage over Community schools.

My conclusions (Tom Ward)
1. The dominant section of the select Committee would allow Faith Schools, provided that they conformed to their political agenda - i.e. that theological and moral absolutes were absent.
2. There was no hint of understanding on their part that the Government’s unremitting attack on marriage and the family was largely responsible for child poverty.
3. Basically, they regarded the solution as the problem and the problem as the solution.
Following this part of the Hearing the Right Reverend Patrick O’Donoghue Bishop of Lancaster was questioned.
Bishop O’Donoghue told the Committee that in the Lancaster Diocese he has 84 schools with between 13% to 50% Moslem pupils and an increasing number of Eastern European children. He dismissed the school dinner statistics as not relevant to the Catholic schools, and stated that there was no evidence that the Catholic system discriminated against the poor.
On his Fit for Mission document he made the following points:
· God would be at the centre of his schools, as would Catholic morality.
· Religious education was no longer to be marginalised in the schools in his diocese, but rather it must now be clear and pervade every aspect of the school.
· Anti-Catholic books, such as the work of Marx and Camus, would be banned. This vetting would take place throughout Catholic schools in his diocese.
· Red Nose Day and Amnesty International would no longer be supported, because of their support for abortion.
· With conviction and passion he said that the Church was under attack in the media and in certain political circles.
· His intention was to develop and deepen young peoples’ faith.
· On being accused of “proselytising”, Bishop O’Donoghue said that he would have nothing to do with coercion, pointing out that they were Catholic schools and that parents chose them.
When he insisted that the Faith not be compartmentalised in his schools, an MP claimed that the Bishop was going to “evangelise every pupil in the school”. Bishop O’Donoghue answered that they have their freedom to accept or reject what was taught - as indeed was shown by the figures for non-practising former pupils of Catholic schools. When asked by an MP if he felt that he would have been given such a difficult secularist cross examination were he a Moslem, the Bishop adroitly replied by saying that Moslems in Catholic schools were very sympathetic to Our Lady.
Mr Sheerman disrespectfully asked whether or not in the light of “the change of occupant in the Vatican” the Bishop supported combined Catholic/Anglican ecumenical schools. Bishop O’Donoghue insisted that Fit for Mission? Schools would apply, and that parents would have to approve of the schools.
When challenged on Fit for Mission? Schools, he said he would not change his policy, insisting that without identity, sustainability and mission there would be no survival for his schools. He made it clear that 800,000 Catholics voted with their feet for Catholic schools, that Roman Catholics pay tax twice, first as citizens and secondly through the Church which pays 10% of the capital cost. In addition they were also very generous in their financial support for their schools. Furthermore, that Catholics rights are enshrined in the 1944 Act and in European Law. When challenged that the Catholic Hierarchy had fought “tooth and nail against an admission quota for non Catholics he replied, “and we will again!”
I was left with following impressions:
1. Against a hostile cross-examination, the Bishop had courageously defended God and our children’s right to be evangelised.
2. The Bishop has, with skill and clarity, defended the Church’s vision of Catholic Education as represented by Fit for Mission? Schools.
3. His dignity, goodness and competence were, on the whole, respected by hostile politicians who might otherwise have been yet more aggressive.
4. In this battle with the dominant neo-pagan culture, the Bishop has bought us a little time to begin the re-evangelisation of our youth.
6. The issue of the parents being primary educators was firmly emphasised.
7. In this, the centre of Common Law Jurisdiction, the war between the Civilisation of Love and the dominant Culture of Death will not be won by the secularists, few of whom will go to the stake for their disbeliefs. Rather it will be lost by Catholics if other Bishops fear to support Bishop O’Donoghue’s courageous witness to Our Lord Jesus Christ.
8. Every Catholic family in the country owes a debt of gratitude to Bishop O'Donoghue for Fit for Mission? Schools and for his defence of Catholic truth against a liberal Parliament.


Kate said...

"If other Bishops fear to support Bishop O'Donoghue's brave witness to Our Lord Jesus Christ", -some have said that the difficulty with 'Fit for Witness?'was that it did not come through the Bishops' Conference.I hope this will not dissuade our Bishops in any way.....

Anonymous said...

St John Fisher, Pray for us.