Where justice, if not perfection, prevails . . .
By James Breen
The Education (Scotland) Act, 1918, was a very comprehensive measure designed not only to provide a national system of education but also to meet the just grievances of the Catholic community. The Act gave Catholics the opportunity of transferring (for an agreed sum) or leasing their schools to the newly established Education Committees.
The Act, too; gave them assurances that teachers appointed to their schools must satisfy the Church authorities "'with regard to their religious belief and character," that religious instruction would continue "according to use and wont" and that a rcprssentative, accredited by the Church, would have the right of entry to the school during the period of religious instruction.
Some clergy at that time had doubts about the wisdom of
transferring, hut the, overwhelming majority of Catholics considered that the Act gave them the guarantees required to ensure the continuing denominational character of their schools. These assurances have been incorporated in subsequent Acts (1946 and 1962).
The 1918 Act brought Catholic schools fully within the State system. From this it followed that local Education Committees were now responsible for all building, equipment, maintenance, hooks, teachers' salaries, pupils' season tickets, bursaries, medical and dental inspection and all the other services now recognised as part of the educational ambience.
Scottish Catholics at the present day have little reason to complain about the quantity of educational facilities available to them. Yet there are some, a not insignificant minority, who are uneasy about the quality of the education provided.
There is, at the moment, a shortage of teachers, especially in the midland belt of Scotland, and this shortage is more marked in the Catholic secondary schools. The consequence is unduly large sections, and in some schools, especially in the practical and aesthetic subjects, some pupils have to make do with less than the usual quota of teaching periods.
Some parents, too, are uneasy about the common course which is official policy in the early years of secondary schooling, fearing that it does less than justice to the able pupils. . . . .
Again, there is criticism the religious instruction imparted in our schools. The malaise affecting society in general and the effects of Vatican 11 are reflected in the uncertainty with which many Catholic teachers approach the teaching of
religion. This is understandable, and measures are on hand to meet this latter difficulty.
Catechetical centres have been set up in roost Scottish dioceses, and new approaches to the teaching of religion have already brought on to the market books and booklets designed to help teachers and pupils. Full-time school chaplains, where priests are available, are being appointed to secondary schools. The large comprehensive schools, averaging 1,500 pupils (there are some which arc verging On 2,000) obviously produce their own problems because of their size. All secondary schools now have house staff. The house staff and chaplain work closely together to their mutual benefit.
Yet there are critics of Catholic schools. They say that Catholic schools cause unnecessary public expense, that they are unecumenical, that they are in a privileged position, that they are socially divisive. No evidence is produced to support these opinions. but undoubtedly the situation in Northern Ireland has been used by those who emphasise the divisive point of view.
There are, too some Catholics who believe that our Catholic schools have been overprotective and have produced a ghetto-like attitude on the part of many Catholics, causing them to be indifferent to the life and needs or the larger community.
Integration is the war-cry of those Who oppose our Catholic school, but Catholics would want to be assured that socalled integration would confer greater benefits than the present system confers. So far, they cannot see the benefits.
No one claims that OUT Catholic schools are perfect, and it is right that constructive criticism should continue to effect improvement. Catholics see the Catholic schools as providing a way of life which is consonant with the beliefs, attitudes and practices of Catholic parents. They believe that the Faith must be lived before it can be imparted to others. They believe that the Catholic school provides what they want — a supportive, formative and instructive community imbued with their own ideals.
Mr. James Breen, M.A., 0.B.E., is former Rector of St. Patrick's High School, Coatbridge, and chairman of the Scottish Catholic Education Commisskin.