BY PIERS MCGRANDLE
RELIGIOUS EDUCATION in Catholic schools in Westminster diocese is "in many cases uninspiring", according to a report published last week.
The report, which will have reverberations around the country, follows three years of inspections in 32 schools in the diocese. Timed to coincide with the annual meeting of the heads of Catholic secondary schools, the report, commissioned by the diocese itself, claims that "much of the learning lacked variety and was often teacher-led". The inspection focused on classroom RE; worship; the school as a Catholic community and the spiritual development of pupils.
An uninspired approach can lead to boredom and disaffection, which in turn alienates "the interest of pupils from ;natters of religion and religious practice and so frustrates the primary purposes of a Catholic education. In only a quarter of religious education lessons was the "spark of enthusiasm" present.
Nevertheless, the general findings are favourable. The schools "show themselves to be strong, caring communities, with good relationships between pupils and with staff". The report also claims that the basic standard of teaching in the schools is "predominately sound or good", but adds that even experienced teachers were prone to over-use work sheets and talking too much. "There was little pace or sparkle, lack of variety, low expectation and undiffentiated tasks".
Accommodation for religious classes was a major source of concern among the inspectorate, noting that in only three schools were the RE departments described as well-resourced. In ten schools, accommodation was cramped and inadequate.The report notes wryly that " the way in which the department is accommodated also reflects the esteem in which it is held within the school".
No school in the diocese can call itself strictly Catholic. 87 per cent of pupils in the secondary schools are baptised Catholic and 56 per cent of staff. In four of the schools all pupils are Catholic and in one only are there less than 50 per cent. No school has an entirely Catholic staff; the highest figure is 77 per cent and the lowest is 34 per cent.
The report also approved of the voluntary community work undertaken by most Catholic schools, which could range from visiting old people to caring for the homeless and terminally sick. Such work was a fine example of "Christian communities in action". The need to uphold the distinctive nature of Catholic schools is of primary concern to the hierarchy. The governors of Catholicmaintained schools are responsible for policy relating to the secular and religious education curricula.
Education: Pages 8 and 9