08 December 2014, The Tablet

Arguing about social mobility limits the scope of education

by Daniel Kearney

Politicians are arguing over whether state or private schools deliver the best quality education and boost Britain’s currently flagging
levels of social mobility. Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said private schools ought to benefit the common good and local state
schools; education secretary Nicky Morgan said his ideas were ”vacuous”.

Having spent my career teaching in – and for some years, leading – Catholic private schools, I’d say firstly that training your pupils to
attain ever better academic results isn’t enough.

Diocesan schools, most notably in the state sector, usually have more defined criteria by which to assess the nature and ethos of a Catholic
school, which are commonly referred to as the five Ws: Welcome, Word, Worship, Witness and Welfare.

Many independent Catholic schools however, without the benefit of clergy, rely on other means to generate an ethos. Often, such schools,
to meet costs, feel it necessary, as it has been put, “to fish in the pond of non-Catholic families” to boost their role and their income.
The obvious danger here is of watering down their Catholicism which, inevitably impacts on its ethos. Such schools run the risk of becoming
merely Catholic in name and not nature.

All too often Catholic education is compartmentalised, reduced to, for instance, the pastoral care, the religious life or charitable giving.

Fundamentally education is about the service of others – a service to individuals and not simply classes or subjects. Each person sits
before us in his or her own right with an intrinsic dignity and incomparable worth which does not diminish because they misbehave,
fail to complete homework or appear to be uninterested and distracted in our lessons.

As teachers and managers we must be mindful that we are called to be God’s fellow workers, to work alongside God, in his image and
likeness. As Pope Francis reminds said to young people at World Youth Day in Rio last year, “God will take care of everything, but let him
work in you and bring about this growth.”

We are not offering in our schools a roadmap to secular success but a pathway through life – an aim seldom acknowledged by the tick-box
legion or the banal league tables. We must be confident that this is a road worth taking. As Catholic teachers and parents we must also give
witness to this in our own lives too.

Daniel Kearney is head of RS at Leweston School, a Catholic independent school in Dorset


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Comment by: Jim Scott
Posted: 09/12/2014 22:52:56

Whilst the connection between the headline and its content seems tenuous in the extreme, if either is claiming that "schooling which leads to increased social mobility" is inherently antithetical to "schooling in values" then they are surely wrong.

As for Tristram Hunt's insistence on further obfuscation of the current minimal debate about the role of English private education (which irony of ironies is indeed inherently antithetical to social mobility) this only serves to highlight quite how insignificant are the theoretical and moral grounds on which the "New" Labour Party now formulates its policies.

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