Tuesday 19 July 2011

Q. When is a good Catholic school not a Catholic school?

Catholic education: back to the future?
Photo credit: Foxtongue on Flickr

A. When it wants to remain faithful to the Magesterium.

...or at least so I'm told. A friend in France recently told me about a wonderful Catholic school: the headmaster is a Catholic priest, the majority of the teachers are also Catholic priests and the remainder are faithful lay-persons. ALL of the students are Catholic. The Faith imbues every aspect of the children's education, and they learn the catechism, history and laws of the Church in the most traditional way.

This is unusual in France where diocesan Catholic schools have teachers' salaries paid by the state, but have a contribution made by the diocese (and often by parents as well) and the buildings are owned by the Church. Despite being largely state funded, these are often called "private". Parental contribution aside, this sounds remarkably similar to what we call "grant maintained" here. Ah yes, and the diocesan schools have the same problems as our grant-maintained schools here in the UK: the government dictates curriculum and admissions. In France, I've been told, state funded schools are not allowed to discriminate on the grounds of religion for admissions, so "Catholic" schools can end up in the ludicrous position of having few if any Catholic students. Sound familiar?

Another problem is meddling from the educational teams within the diocese. Schools are persuaded to follow government guidelines, implement politically correct agendas, and downplay the aspects of the Faith less palatable to the liberal intelligentsia (or "Marxists" as my correspondent grimly calls them).

So how has the school in question avoided all of these pitfalls and managed to remain a truly Catholic school for Catholic children? Simple. Technically it isn't a Catholic school. By not calling itself a Catholic school, it has no obligation  to have any administrative relationship with the diocese. By not taking any money from the state it has no obligation to teach any particular curriculum. Parents pay a small amount every month (subsidised where necessary) and benefactors make up the rest. The total annual cost for each student is less than the monthly fees for a cheap independent school in the South East of England. The school is run on a shoe-string but provides a first-class classical education and a sound Catholic foundation at both primary and secondary levels. What's not to like?

I think there's a lesson to be learned, and in the UK's current political climate we may have an advantage here over our Gallic cousins: the government's extended Academies programme promises state-funded schools the kind of autonomy that independent schools currently have in terms of curriculum and admissions. Why not create a truly independent, traditional, rigorously Catholic school -- just keep the word "Catholic" out of the name to maintain its independence. Failing that, perhaps it's time to ignore the ludicrous UK "market rate" for independent education, and see what is feasible with the financial input of Catholic philanthropists of both large and ordinary means.

Vaughan parents take heart - there must be another way!


  1. Thank you for this heartening post.

  2. My pleasure! Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could do something similar here?