Sturgeon speech

FM endorses Catholic schools while SNP axe hangs over St Martin’s

Nicola Sturgeon, who gave Winning Lecture on Catholic schools while St Martin’s is threatened with closure. Archbishop Tartaglia has been asked for his support for the school to be rebuilt. Monsignor Kelly and Cardinal Winning with head teacher Arthur Lenagh and pupils at the opening of the then new St Patrick’s Primary School. Pictures by Bill Heaney

By Bill Heaney

Nicola Sturgeon this week praised the “tremendous contribution” of Catholic schools to Scotland’s education system then announced she was giving £100,000 of extra money to help boost their teacher numbers.

In a speech at Glasgow University, celebrating the centenary of legislation that brought the schools into the state system, the First Minister said the Scottish government will invest £127,000 in the Catholic teacher education programme this year — up from just £28,000 last year.

Dumbartonians have a special interest in Catholic education since the legendary Monsignor Hugh Canon Kelly, parish priest of St Patrick’s – he was widely known as the Pope of the Clyde – was one of the principal leaders in the fight for State support for Catholic schools.

There is also the fact that West Dunbartonshire Council will discuss on Wednesday (at Garshake at 2pm) whether to close St Martin’s Primary School in Renton, which has been established in the village for more than a century.

Local parents Stephen Storrie and Drew MacEoghainn have organised a local campaign to persuade education convener Karen Conaghan and the SNP administration to build a new St Martin’s on a joint campus with Renton PS.

They have also asked for the support of Archbishop Philip Tartaglia and Catholic representatives on the education committee, which has so far not been forthcoming.

Monsignor Kelly negotiated with the UK government of the day and helped to navigate the 1918 Education (Scotland) Act via sympathetic members of the Irish Party, principally John Boland, the MP for South Kerry (Ireland was still part of the UK at that time), through the Westminster parliament.

The sage monsignor is said to have helped draft the clause which guaranteed Catholics the right to their own schools in perpetuity – or until such times as the Church decided to give up that right.

Then, non-denominational schools were generally referred to as “Protestant” schools and most had chaplains from the Church of Scotland.

The Catholic schools, which were designated voluntary schools, received support of just £2 per pupil, while Protestant pupils of board schools were subsidised by a total £5 per pupil.

The difference had to be made up through support from the Catholic community and the sacrifice of Catholic teachers who took lower salaries than their board school counterparts.

On the eve of the First World War, the average salary of headmasters in Catholic schools in Scotland was £152, while headmistresses earned just £95.

Remarkably, women formed about four fifths of the Catholic teachers of Scotland.

In Protestant (board) schools, remuneration was greater at every level with headmasters on £194 and head mistresses just £98 per annum.

In Glasgow, larger pupil numbers meant Protestant school headmasters were paid £366 a year while Catholic heads averaged only £180.

The money announced by Nicola Sturgeon is her delivery of the annual Cardinal Winning lecture will allow 322 students to gain a Catholic Teaching Certificate, 46 more than the previous year.

The FM was criticised by secularists in advance of her speech.

They said her praise for Catholic schools will “exacerbate Scotland’s tribal divisions” and were “no remedy for a society facing ingrained sectarian division”.

Humanist Neil Barber accused the FM of showing “a willingness to sacrifice social cohesion to reach a block vote”.

He wrote: “Often referred to as ‘Scotland’s shame’, there is an ingrained sectarianism in Scottish society.

“Historically there were many west coast Protestant Scots that moved to Northern Ireland, and the religious and cultural divides of that country’s history still colour the tribalism of rival football teams in Scotland’s cities today.

“Hateful songs and chants invoking historical sectarian enmity are commonplace.

“In the 19th century there was a large influx of Catholic Irish immigrants.

“Such was the extent of discrimination against them from Protestants that the 1918 Education Act allowed for Catholic schools funded by the tax payer.”

Mr Barber added: “One hundred years later, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has praised Catholic schools as being ‘good for Scotland’.

“Could it be that Ms Sturgeon, who seems a decent and capable politician, is concerned with the first rule of political life: don’t alienate any sort of block vote?”

When agreeing to deliver the annual Cardinal Winning lecture, had she forgotten Dr Winning’s belief that homosexuality was “perverted”?

The Catholic Church in Scotland is opposed to gay marriage and abortion.

He asked: “Catholic schools in Scotland were borne of division and while the discrimination Catholics endured at the time was loathsome, is that any reason to continue to enshrine these fortresses of religious exclusivity?”

Mr Barber claimed: “Today, fewer than 50% of Scots identify with any sort of religion. Christianity is therefore the religion of a minority and the figure plunges further when it comes to young people.

“It is one thing for parents to teach their own religious beliefs to their children but another for a tax-funded school to do so. Is it so hard for the religious to recruit from fellow adults?”

He disputed that Catholic schools were better or that they had any special ethos and described segregation as “educational apartheid”.

He added: “In Scotland the problem goes beyond Catholic schools. There is an illusion that non-Catholic schools are ‘non-denominational’.

“But these schools are regularly serviced by Church of Scotland ministers to fulfil the statutory requirement on all schools to have ‘religious observance’.

“Every council education committee in Scotland has three or four unelected ‘religious representatives’ which must include all competing denominations of Christianity.

“These religious nominees have more than once used their powers to further their own divisive agendas, for example by vetoing joint campus schools or voting against sex and relationship classes.

“Can we not have a school system where all children are educated and play together regardless of the religious choices of their parents?

“Most counter intuitively of all, religious leaders often claim there is no evidence that faith schools create adult sectarianism.

“Surely 16 years of them-and-us schooling at an age where youngsters are looking for identity and will readily accept tribal membership is going to be a large contributing factor?”

Martin ArchbishopMeanwhile, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin (pictured right), said the Catholic Church in Ireland needs a “reality check” following the result of the abortion referendum there.

“I knew the Yes campaigners had won when I saw the high turnout for Yes votes,” he told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

“There were people queuing outside polling stations even before the doors opened. Many young people working outside Ireland came back specially to vote.”

He added: “Even proponents of the referendum were shocked at the scale of the Yes vote.

“The health minister said it was not a referendum but a cultural revolution.

“The Church needs to ask itself when this cultural revolution began and why some of its members refused to see this change.

“There also needs to be a review of youth pastoral care: the referendum was won with young people’s votes and 90% of young people who voted Yes attended Catholic schools.”

He added: “I ask myself, most of these young people who voted yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years. I’m saying there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the Church.”





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