28TH FEBRUARY 2007
Archbishop Seán Brady comments to mark Catholic Schools Week, 26th February – 4th March 2007 (Northern Ireland)
“It is time to end the facile argument that Church-based schools are divisive. Commitment to tolerance, justice and the common good is at the very heart of the Catholic vision of education.” – Archbishop Brady
This week Catholic schools and parish communities throughout Northern Ireland celebrate the distinctive richness and diversity of Catholic Education by taking part in a series of suggested events and activities. The theme chosen for the week is ‘Walk in the Light’, a reference to the call of every Christian, rooted in their Baptism, to live by the light of the Gospel
The Catholic school seeks to walk in the light of the Gospel. Catholic education is based explicitly on the values of the Gospel, integrating faith and life, promoting justice and peace and contributing to the common good. Catholic Education Week aims to engage the entire Catholic education community, namely the family, the school and the parish in celebrating and supporting this vision of the Catholic school. It builds on the success of the ‘Catholic Education – The Vision’ initiative launched last September.
Recent information and data have demonstrated that Catholic schools offer an outstanding educational experience. It also confirms that Catholic Schools are committed to the critical task of promoting reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
For a number of years, the impression has sometimes been given that the existence of denominational schools has been part of the problem here. If only the 550 Catholic Schools in Northern Ireland didn’t exist, it is alleged, then peace and reconciliation would be so much easier to achieve. I refute this suggestion emphatically. The recently published Bain Report states quite explicitly “that all schools and all educational interests in Northern Ireland… wish to play their part in the journey towards the goal of A Shared Future.” This suggests that Government now recognises that Catholic schools, who teach 45% of the pupils in Northern Ireland want to and are able to continue to make their own unique contribution to the vital task of reconciliation.
Those who send their children to Catholic schools have no need to apologise for making that choice. They have a right to a faith-based education for their children. This right is internationally recognised and is fully compatible with the vision of a diverse, tolerant and reconciled society. It is time to end the facile argument that Church-based schools are divisive. Commitment to tolerance, justice and the common good is at the very heart of the Catholic vision of education.
This commitment is reflected in the outstanding performance of Catholic schools across a wide range of circumstances. Recent government statistics confirm, for example, that Catholic primary schools have played a key role in supporting those communities where literacy and numeracy skills are well above the Northern Ireland average. Similarly, despite much higher levels of Free School Meal Entitlement in the Catholic sector, suggesting a higher level of economic disadvantage, Government statistics also indicate that Catholic secondary schools, non-selective and Grammar, generally outperformed other sectors in terms of GSCE scores, post-16 staying-on rates and A-Level results. Catholic schools in Northern Ireland also have a proportionately high number of pupils who move on to third-level education.
Catholic schools week is an opportunity for all those involved in Catholic Education to celebrate the achievements of Catholic schools and to set out with fresh heart on the challenging journey of social and educational change that lies ahead. The light that guides us on this journey is the light of Christ. That light always guides us to a deeper commitment to peace and the common good. That is why this week we challenge ourselves and all who bear the name of Christ, to walk in the light.
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)