It is heartening to hear at last an official Catholic voice speaking at national level on the future of our colleges in the new higher education order now being shaped, an order that will knit teacher training into an integrated pattern of higher and further education.
To meet the acute teacher shortage in the 1960s. generously and at some capital cost, colleges expanded to their present size and numbers, and it has been dispiriting to watch them being picked off one by one by Whitehall, or pressured piecemeal into federations with a variety of other in stitutions without prospect of nationally negotiated safeguards of their founding purpose and Christian identity.
Bishop Mullins (July 5) now give g a statement of intent which is welcome. All of us who are interested in the future of our schools, as well as of our colleges, will await eagerly the plan that lies behind the statement and that contains the strategy for maintaining all our colleges on the drastically reduced teacherintake that must obtain, on the birthrate figures given, for the next decade or so.
In addition to the cut-back in teacher training places there is now a significant "short-fall" in applications by school-leavers for _places in higher education generally, and this must exacerbate a situation in which too few students are chasing the surplus of places.
Against this background a simplistically harsh plan might have been to concentrate on the maintenance and development of selected colleges judged capable of attracting students and of sustaining degree courses in furtherance of the goal of an all-graduate profession advocated by the teachers unions.
This goal is an important one to us if we are to maintain the quality of education in Catholic schools and enable our young people to emerge from them equally well equipped alongside their contemporaries to take their place in the community. To this end, as BishOp Mullins rightly says: "We must . . . ensure that. our colleges stand comparison with all others in the land."
Even had the Catholic colleges' planning group accepted Department of Education and Science closure proposals, the task of maintaining comparability and offering to intending teachers a reasonable range of courses to equip them for schools and to afford them personal satisfaction in their education, would have been challenging.
The decision to fight to keep all the colleges open is a bold one and the imagination and , enterprise necessary to implement it successfully is correspondingly greater.
All of us engaged in teacher training will be on tenterhooks to learn more of the context in which we may, for the good of the Catholic education in the country as a whole, act.
In my own region DES figures for the 1975 intake have already been published to local education authority colleges while the Catholic college space remains tantalisingly blank pending a national plan. If I seem importunate it is because a continued blank gravely disadvantages Catholic institutions in comparison with other. Besides, like the devil, I can cite Scripture to my purpose.
Josephine M. Kelly Vice-Principal, St. Mary's College
of the Sacred Heart, Fenham, Newcastle upon Tyne.
I read the irticle "New Horizons for Catholic Education" in your issue of July 5 with great interest.
Though I applaud Mr Cunliffe's forward-looking philosophy I would nevertheless interject a note of caution into his thesis, which to me seems to discount a number of issues that may show his projection for the future development of the Catholic colleges to be somewhat optimistic,
Mr Cunliffe maintains that Church interests are not in jeopardy, whereas, as I see it, they may very well be so unless we take further cognisance of
the problems which may arise if we became over-preoccupied with large-scale institutions.
It is not absurd to suggest that we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of what perhaps Catholics have come to take for granted — that is, a dual system in education. If the proposition is simply that we should train our teachers alongside students who are i involved in other courses n a single large institution one could approve to some extent on educational grounds.
However, it does no harm to wonder if the real reason for the changes being advanced by the DES is essentially economic. Seen in this light the changes proposed become the means whereby fles,ibility can be introduced into the system SO that students in higher education can be more easily processed.
If we acquiesce without further consideration we may find that we have thrown the baby out with the bath water. Our Catholic colleges, larger but presumably fewer in .number, would be developed on the new model. with a propor tion of students training for a career in Catholic schools and an unspecified number of other students, possibly without any religious convictions, following other courses.
It does not require any great stretch of the imagination to en visage a situation at some later date in which the DES would be urging the colleges to take an in creasing number of students in the latter category, in the interests of flexibility. This could conceivably reach a point where the concept of a Catholic college no longer had any meaning, especially if there is a further fall in the demand for teachers. The clarion call for diversification seems to have ex ercised a hypnotic effect upon all of us and if we respond to it unreservedly without looking again we may find that we have something to answer for.
I would not wish to pour cold water on Mr Cunliffe's optimism, but at the same time it does seem to me that more realistic considerations should be introduced into the argument. Ultimately. perhaps, having regard for the mind of the DES, it may be in our best interest to propose a mixed system for Catholic higher education.
Some colleges could diversify and so meet the precepts of the DES while others could co-exist as large-scale monotechnic institutions. I see no,reason why we cannot hedge our bets.
Meanwhile, if the future Catholic college is to be a large unit whether diversified or not, it is perhaps worth while considering what we are going to lose by phasing out our existing small institutions. I do not see how. in a very large college, we can retain the close tutor/student relationship which typifies the small teacher training establishment.
The anology here is with the schools. When we had all-age schools, children, parents and. teachers knew each other and there was a parish identity. We now build large schools in which the relationship between the parties involved in education must inevitably be remote.
In fact the present interest in counselling arises out of the great need for that pastoral care which in the all-age school was inbuilt. We may discover a similar vacuum in the enlarged college units.
On the professional side, there is the danger that the fragmentation of courses may deprive the students of that consistent encouragement and support which is part of the business of teacher training. This is no reflection on the good intentions of tutors. but simply the natural outcome of complex organisation which will make continuity in the relationship difficult to achieve.
If this is true of professional training it must surely be true in terms of the personal development one looks for in a student during the college course. This is the period in their lives when they are seeking answers to fundamental questions in their efforts to develop as full human beings. It is going to be very hard for tutors to win their confidence if they do not know them, and it is unlikely that students will take the initiative unless they know their tutor really well. We need to be aware of the difficulties which could arise in the new large-type Catholic college if we have to plan in that direction. Awareness of itself is important, but it is not enough; we should try to anticipate the problems and conduct the necessary research now. A move in this direction would be at least some consolation.
F. G. Peers Mary Ward College
of Education, Keyworth, Nottinghamshire.
The Catholic community would be unwise to accept too readily the view being propagated by the college lobby that the imminent closuce of many of the Catholic colleges of education is an unmixed disaster, Before subscribing to that view. Catholics should inquire in what sense the colleges are still Catholic, in what sense they provide a Catholic higher education, and what kind of Catholicism is taught in their theology departments. Unlike Catholic schools in the State system. where all the pupils — though not all the teachers — are Catholics, the colleges have long since ceased to be Catholic in the minimal sense that all their students are Catholic. Furthermore, in my experience, the college courses are in no way orientated to educating students precisely as Catholics, even the philosophy of education courses having been secularised.
Most important of all, there is no guarantee whatever that what is taught in the theology, departments agrees with the doctrines of the Faith as defined by the magisterium. On the contrary, certain lecturers are notorious for their repudiations of Catholic orthodoxy, while the Dutch Catechism, uninfluenced by the orthodox appendix required by Rome, is the basic textbook in many of the theology departments.
There is considerable irony in the fact that many lecturers, having opposed for a decade the papal condemnation of contraception, have contributed to that fall-off in the Catholic birthrate which now threatens to put them out of their jobs.
W. J. Morgaq
18 Carlton Road, Rugby.