CARDINAL Newman School near Brighton is a model Catholic comprehensive for the future: unlike many others it has already developed a clear notion of what a Catholic ethos equals.
With its 1,500 pupils it's one of the largest Catholic schools in the country, and its dynamic head Ian Feely is convinced it's also one of the best.
Feely, a straight-talking northerner, believes in selecting pupils according to their faith but strictly not according to their ability. He takes all Catholics who want places, and then admits others from different religious backgrounds — but children are not rejected because of their academic record, and nor are they streamed within the school.
We wouldn't dream of taking anyone because he or she was better than others academically. I believe it's morally wrong to do that — the key thing in a Catholic school is a just admissions policy and a Just appointments system," he explains.
The school, a series of sprawling buildings covering two sites, gels good academic results but more important, says Ian Feely, is its attention to each individual pupil. "We believe that all children should succeed. We provide stimulating teaching at the correct pace," boasts the blurb in the gloss) school brochure.
"Our pupils," says Feely, "are taught to value themselves in terms of the people they are, not the jobs they are going to do." But that maxim, he says, is not universally upheld: the current educational philosophy is becoming more markedly a case of material, not spiritual, assessment. lie believes the difference will become more noticeable in the years ahead.
One of the problems Cardinal Newman faces as a south eastern Catholic school is a critical shortage of Catholic teachers — especially ones qualified to teach
RE and music. "What it will mean eventually is that schools will cease to be Catholic because you need practising Catholics to carry on the ethos," says Ian Feely.
The importance of Catholic staff members is also emphasised by the fact that many at the school believe it has gained much through teachers' involvement in the Arundel and Brighton diocesan Renew programme. The three-year course, aimed at renewing people's commitment to their faith, is based in the parishes but has had tangible results in the schools, loo.
Cardinal Newman has a new kind of spirit, too, according to science teacher Joanne Cassidy. "It's got a more sympathetic atmosphere than Catholic schools might have had in the past — schools are less dogmatic than they were. And there's more openness, too."
This realistic approach is a key factor in the success of Cardinal Newman: at a time when clerics seem to address young people from where they "should be" rather than from where they are. The school very sensibly takes the opposite approach, and starts from the youngsters' world.