Bishop rejects Council's schools plan.

Bishop rejects Council's schools plan.  

The Right Rev. Joseph Devine, Bishop of Motherwell, has today (Thursday 22 July 2004) informed Councillor James McCabe, the leader of North Lanarkshire Council, that he cannot agree to their proposals to upgrade seven catholic primary schools on shared campus locations with non-denominational schools.[1]  

Commenting on his decision, Bishop Devine said: It is with regret that I have concluded that the Council is not prepared to meet the needs of the Catholic community and guarantee the satisfactory provision of Catholic education in these proposed arrangements. From the outset of discussions, I expressed my deepest reservations about the Council s intention to replace St Aloysius Chapelhall, a school of over 300 pupils, with a new building in which significant facilities would be shared with the non-denominational school. I support the wishes of parents that St Aloysius remains in its current building which is adequate for its purpose.  


Bishop Devine added: While I agreed to the principle of shared campus provision in the other six communities, believing that it could ensure the continued provision of Catholic education in these villages and towns, I could only give my consent to such proposals if the guidelines on shared campus arrangements of the Bishops Conference of Scotland were met. Throughout months of discussions however, I have become increasingly concerned that the Council was seeking to maximise the provision of shared facilities, to the detriment of the distinctive identity and education which should be provided by each school community. I reminded the Council that this approach was in direct conflict with the agreed policy of all the Scottish Bishops. At each stage when Diocesan officials expressed these concerns, the Council repeated assurances that design features could be altered to meet the needs of the Diocese.  


Bishop Devine concluded: It has now become clear that North Lanarkshire Council is not prepared to make the design changes which the Diocese has sought. Accordingly, I have informed the Council that it is pursuing a flawed policy in its determination to promote shared campus provision on this basis in these communities. I have informed parents and priests throughout the Diocese of the reasons for this decision. Lastly, I have written to the First Minister referring the proposals to him for his urgent attention.  


Following Bishop Devine's announcement, Michael McGrath, Director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, commented  

When the Bishop took the brave decision to consider the principle of shared campus developments in these areas, he had expected the Council to meet the terms of the Scottish Bishops guidelines[2] on such proposals. These guidelines anticipated that in exceptional circumstances the sharing of a minimal number of enhanced facilities, to the benefit of both school communities, might be acceptable to the Church. However, in the ongoing discussions with North Lanarkshire Council, when the Council eventually provided the building plans, it was clear that the Council was determined to maximise the provision of shared facilities. This approach is significantly at odds with other shared campus arrangements which currently exist in Scotland.  



Mr McGrath added, I share the Bishop s fears that these proposals would lead to a significant deterioration in the quality of Catholic education and in the very distinctiveness of the formation which is offered in these schools. The Catholic school s distinctive identity should be visible throughout the school, in the quality of the relationships formed, in its culture and ethos, in its expression of values and beliefs, in various forms of display and ornamentation, in opportunities for prayer and worship, and in many other activities, as appropriate to the Christian calendar, eg celebrating important Feast days and observing the Seasons of Lent, Advent etc. The Church expects that a close involvement with parents and with the local parish community, in various efforts to provide young people with adequate formation in a Christian environment, will be reflected in distinctive programmes of Sacramental preparation and ongoing spiritual development in every Catholic school. Such expectations are well expressed in an important document issued by the Catholic Church:  

From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one . . . permeated with the Gospel spirit of love and freedom [3].  



Mr McGrath concluded: Bishop Devine has listened to the people and priests who expressed grave concerns for the future of Catholic education throughout the Diocese. He has taken the unprecedented step of referring the Council s proposals to the First Minister, citing the Education (Scotland) Act of 1980 which empowers him to do so, if he is concerned that a Council is failing to conduct a school in the interests of the Church or that any change proposed by a Council could lead to a significant deterioration in the educational provision which was intended to be provided when the school was established[4]. He now expects the First Minister to intervene and to ensure that the Council meets its statutory obligations in this regard.  

ENDS  

Notes to editors:  

[1] St Aloysius Chapelhall, St Ignatius Wishaw, St Mary s Caldercruix, St David s Plains, St Kevin s Bargeddie, Our Lady and St Joseph Glenboig, St Patrick s New Stevenston  

[2] Advice on Shared Campuses issued by Catholic Education Commission, March 2002  

[3] The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School issued by Congregation for Catholic Education, 1988  

[4] Education (Scotland) Act 1980 Section 22D (2)(c) & 3  


Peter Kearney  
Director  
Catholic Media Office  
5 St. Vincent Place  
Glasgow  
G1 2DH  
0141 221 1168  
pk@scmo.org  
www.scmo.org  

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