England’s great Catholic private schools are now all under secular management. Jeremy Sutcliffe talks to the heads of Ampleforth and Downside about being handed the baton by Benedictine predecessors
The decline of traditional Catholic religious orders, which has already seen the wholesale retreat from teaching by monks and nuns in state-funded education, is now having a major impact on our most prominent private schools.
In the last two years, three of the United Kingdom’s best-known Benedictine schools – Ampleforth in North Yorkshire, Downside in Somerset and Worth in Sussex – have appointed lay head teachers for the first time, bringing to an end two centuries of educational and spiritual leadership by monks. Other independent Catholic schools, such as the Jesuit Stonyhurst, St Mary’s Ascot and Woldingham have long had lay heads.