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Catholic Education Week
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Catholic Education Week
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Catholic Schools Week 2009: 26th January - 1st February

The theme this year is:

 " Catholic Schools - A Vision for Life" 

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Catholic Schools at the Service of Truth in Every Generation.

Pope Benedict in his addresss to the Catholic University of America stated that education is central to and constitutive of the mission of the Church. It is urgent to recall his words and reflect on them in the context of Catholic Schools week 2009:

“Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News…….God's revelation offers  every generation the opportunity to discover the ultimate truth about its own life and the goal of history. This task is never easy; it involves the entire Christian community and motivates each generation of Christian educators to ensure that the power of God's truth permeates every dimension of the institutions they
serve.”

Conferences in Dublin and Belfast

Catholic Schools week will be launched in Dublin and Belfast with Conferences on Education and the role of Catholic Schools.
The central themes of the Bishops’ Pastoral will form the agenda for the Conferences.

Catholic Schools – heartbeat of the Church – family life – civic life

To view and download the full version of the Pastoral Letter: Vision 08 Click Here

Resource Pack for Reflection
The main events of Catholic Schools week will take place in parishes
and schools. A resource pack for schools is in preparation and will be
circulated to arrive in schools in the second week of January.
Resources will enourage all members of the school community to
reflect on two key questions: “What makes a school Catholic?” and
“What does it mean to be a Catholic school?” A similar resource will
be made available for use at home. Thus, all the partners in Catholic
schools are invited to reflect on the questions and find the response that
gives meaning to their various roles.

To access resources click on this link www.catholicbishops.ie

Catholic Schools Week 2009
Catholic Education – A Vision for Life
Launch in St Mary’s University College, Belfast
January 26th 2008

Launch of DVD, Faith in Catholic Education
Bishop Donal McKeown (Chair NI Commission for Catholic Education)

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Bishop Donal McKeown

I have been invited to launch the DVD on behalf of NICCE and am very glad of this important event as an opportunity to make this material known to as wide an audience as possible.  After all, this event is not just a flag waving occasion when we formally nod towards the role of Catholic schools in NI – and mouth a few pious platitudes. Catholic schools here have so much to celebrate as key providers of excellence in education. We have the practice. It is important that we also know the theory.  

The purpose of the celebration is to highlight our specific identity which is actually the key reason for our schools doing such a superb job. Our schools start with the assumption that each member of the school community has an infinite worth in the eyes of God and an eternal destiny in the plan of God. That conviction motivates the pastoral care, sense of community, high expectations and spirituality that permeate our schools. That is the message that has been drawn out so clearly in various documents over the last 13 years:
• Life to the Full (1996)
• Proclaiming the Mission (2001)
• Building Peace, Shaping the Future (2001)
• Catholic Education – the Vision (2005)
• Catholic schools – A vision for Life (2008)
• And this DVD

But we are aware that there are many other agendas and other ways understanding the dignity and destiny of the individual.  If we are to keep faith in Catholic education, we need constantly to be reflecting on how we actually live up to our ideals, and on how we develop our ability to articulate what we stand for. We have much to be proud of – but we celebrate that with humility!
After all, the vision that we have for the rounded development of young people is not just a question of what we teach in the classrooms but it also touches on how we act with one another – and on the structures through which education is delivered. We face many challenges in an increasingly pluralist and secular world. It is vitally important that we are clear about our core principles and keep using those as a compass when we face important decisions – and we are confronted with many of those in 2009.

1. We face a major restructuring of the how schools are managed at a regional and local level. Maintained schools will no longer have the support of CCMS, which has made such a contribution to the quality of outcomes and management in our schools, and to creative educational thought across NI. In place of the statutory role that CCMS played, the Catholic sector will – like other sectors - have a non statutory Trustee Support Body, funded by the Department of Education with the task of providing the following services – which the ESA cannot deliver – on behalf of all Catholic schools, those currently maintained as well as the Catholic Voluntary Grammars.
a.  Ethos development and specifically the choice of Governors who are committed to   the Catholic vision;
b. The development of schemes of management and of employment for all Catholic schools;
c. Planning and procurement of school buildings;
d. Representation and advocacy for the Catholic-managed sector;
e. The promotion of high quality outcomes

A lot of work will have to be done to ensure that all parties in Catholic education – the various Trustees (diocesan, religious and lay trusts), Governors, principals, teachers, pupils, parents and communities – feel supported and enabled by this new body. With the formal start of the ESA set for Jan 1st 2010, we have just over eleven months to put that in place. The Trustee Support Service – which will be part of an all-Ireland structure – would not wish to micro-manage situations and schools but to support them in their identity. However, it is equally important for schools to be aware that ‘maximised supported autonomy’ does not mean that an individual school can act as if it were independent of other Catholic schools or even independent within the Catholic family of schools. The primary allegiance of all Catholic schools is to the Catholic family of schools, not to any other body. Together we will be strong. Divided, we will be seriously weakened in our ability to lead the field in outcomes and to be faithful to the Vision. Narrow self interest in the financial markets has caused chaos. Narrow self interest in education is an equally unhelpful approach. Together we can provide a wonderful education for all young people. 

2. Schools need communities and communities need schools. In many areas of this country, strong community cohesion makes a huge contribution to the growth and safety of young people. But there is also a trend towards the fragmentation of communities. Our schools are not just excellent educational establishments but key contributors to the educational and cultural life of parishes and places where the vision can be both proclaimed and made real. It is vital schools be retained and developed, not just where they are economically viable but also where they are needed for community growth and renewal. Life-long learning needs not just buildings but learning communities.

3. The current impasse about transfer at 11 is causing great uncertainty for all schools, primary and post-primary. The Trustees understand that predicament that many schools would face in the case of there being a scandalous political failure to provide a regulated system of transfer. However, it is vital that schools do not allow the understandable anxiety to be exploited so that schools might appear to act only in their own interest or merely in the interest of certain already strong schools. All schools are affected by the uncertainty and not just the Voluntary Grammars. It is vital that all Catholic schools act together to cope with potential uncertainty and a continuing demographic downturn. It is not part of the Catholic or Christian vision that the weakest should suffer excessively and feel that their needs are being overlooked. Our schools are very generous when it comes to helping the less fortunate in developing countries. It would be a travesty of our vision if that level of compassion and solidarity were not to be evident as regards the other school round the corner. Thus, faced with the current uncertainty, I would have much preferred to see strong schools, not just banding together with other strong schools to defend their interests, but working with all selective and selective schools in an area to face. That would have been a clearer witness to the prophetic Gospel values that we all claim to espouse.

4. Because of our clear faith-based principles and our faith in Jesus Christ who has reconciled the world to himself, we are fully committed to serving the cause of reconciliation in NI. There are huge gaps in our society, across the perceived denominational divides, across cultural differences and across the widening social divides. Reconciliation means crossing all of those barriers, not just some of them. Thus Catholic schools are very keen to be involved in all sorts of partnerships. We are working closely with the other Christian churches to safeguard the future of faith-based education in this society. Citizens who wish to have a secular educational environment are entitled to have that. But that right also applies to those citizens and tax payers who want a quality faith-based education. Catholic education is not a barrier to reconciliation. We are ready to play our role in a pluralist society. But a pluralist society has to make space for people of faith as well. Thus we will be working to ensure that the proposed RPA legislation does not lead to a clinical centralisation of power but rather to an empowerment of sectors and communities that are able and entitled to celebrate and preserve their identity. Vision, and not the cold hand of bureaucracy, is best positioned to energise schools. 

5. Because of our shared vision, all parties in Catholic education – along with many other partners – agree that we cannot justify dividing young people at 11 into separate and impervious silos, those that call themselves academic and those that are classified as vocational. There are more than two groups of young people in the world, the intellectuals and the artisans. Thus we are all working to move beyond the current system of rigid selection at 11 in the interests of all young people. Catholic means universal. We cannot claim to be Catholic and not be concerned about the welfare of all. That will present us with many challenges. We have not espoused the work or proposals of any political party. But we are clear that the current system is not fit for purpose in the 21st century and we will work to move forward from current entrenched positions.

So I welcome this DVD. It is one more excellent resource in defining our identity and in encouraging others to know what we stand for. I pay tribute to all who have worked in its production – the technical experts, the schools involved and CCMS who provided so much support for the project. I hope that the DVD – along with all the other material produced in recent years – will help our school to be proud of their identity and humble servants of the common good.