CATHOLIC schools are fast approaching crisis point as various reports over the past months have made clear. There are simply not enough teachers who are practising members of the Church to maintain the special ethos that distinguishes Catholic schools from other parallel secular institutions. Vacancies cannot be filled, and some dioceses are talking of a shortfall of between a quarter and a third in their teaching staffs.
At the root of the problem is the point of supply — the Catholic colleges that are charged with turning out our Catholic teachers. Although recent years have seen an improvement in the results of these colleges as they have diversified into other areas of undergraduate studies than the training of teachers, the flow of new graduates into Catholic classrooms is fast becoming a disappointing trickle.
The colleges themselves are going through a period of re-evaluation and re-alignment. Today in Newman College, Birmingham, one of their number, there will take place a forum on the recent decision of the Catholic higher education colleges to enter the Universities Central Clearing Administration. Many hope that this decision will enable the colleges to attract young Catholics who might otherwise have favoured a university course. By joining UCCA, they say, the Catholic colleges are finally standing foresquare alongside other higher education institutes on an equal footing — not as a second class option for those who failed to make the grade required for university entry. And indeed the Catholic colleges all offer degrees tied in with those awarded by the major universities.
But the opting in to the UCCA system, although it may help the Catholic colleges attract greater numbers of more able students, will not produce the end result of more Catholic teachers in the classroom. For that the teaching profession as a whole must be restored in the hearts and minds of the public to the status that it deserves as a trusted, responsible and well-paid body. Recent years have seen the wages and the respect due to teachers eroded by a series of ill-thought out government vendettas against the profession.
And secondly the support that the Catholic community gives to its schools must increase for tomorrow's Catholic teachers come from today's families, and parishes, and the current reluctance of new graduates to enter Catholic schools is surely a mark of the general apathy with which their future is viewed.