In his final article on education, James Arthur looks at the crisis in teacher recruitment
AT the heart of Christian education and absolutely crucial to the process is the Christian teacher. Unfortunately, teachers do not always align their educational practice with the values implicit in their Christian commitment. Indeed, there is growing concern about the shortage of well motivated Catholic teachers, a problem which is compounded by the decision of many committed Catholics to teach in county (state) schools.
Since Vatican 11 there is pluralism in terms of beliefs and degrees of commitment to be found among Catholic teaching staff in Catholic schools. Additionally, non-Catholic staff, particularly in secondary schools, represent a significant proportion and no matter what subject they teach they do affect the ethos of the school. Consequently, it should go without saying that those who take up a position within a Catholic school should be not only in sympathy with, but actively supports distinctive character. It is possible to have effective teachers in terms of subject teaching who have no religious commitment. The less the religious commitment in the teacher, the less distinctive the Christian identity of the school will be. Put another way, no Catholic education will avail if the teacher is personally not dedicated.
It is the staff of a school who will largely determine whether or not it will fulfil its stated aims. Teachers in Catholic schools who do not freely endeavour to maintain their Catholic character should ask themselves why they are working in an institution which proclaims Christian values. Values like honesty, responsibility, fairness, kindness, courtesy and selfdiscipline are taught by the example of all teachers and by the expectations they set for the pupils irrespective of subject.
Teachers need to identify with these values and accept the broader religious aims of the school. Often their Christian maturity will be put to the test and it Will inevitably demand more from the individual teacher. However, there is still a great reluctance among teachers to speak about their personal doubts concerning the religious aspects of school.
Consequently, there are specific problems with the education, supply and appointment of Catholic teachers, the reasons for which need to be addressed.
Many in the Church continue to view teaching as a noble vocation and they wish to emphasise the apostolic nature of the profession within a Catholic environment. Those who enter teaching are seen to have a duty and a responsibility to the Church as well as to society. The Catholic teacher has a dual purpose of ensuring good provision of secular education whilst also contributing effectively to the Catholic ethos of the school. It should he remembered that these additional responsibilities of Catholic teachers receive no extra staffing or resources.
This is why the bishops issued a Memorandum on the Appointment of Teachers in 1974 which urges governors to enquire carefully into all aspects of applicants. It makes clear that professed athiests are unacceptable as are teachers who are not in sympathy with Catholic education. Governors are encouraged to aim at appointing the "ideal teacher"; one who combines personal conviction and practice of the faith with the required professional qualifications and experience necessary for the particular teaching post.
However, it is recognised that governors are not always able to appoint "ideal" candidates since they are forced to struggle with the tensions which they see between protecting the curriculum and developing the ethos of the school.
Moreover, it is abundantly clear that not all staff see themselves as collaborating with the Church in the enterprise of Catholic education.
There are problems with teacher unions anxious to maintain their conditions of service which they feel are being threatened by the government and even sometimes by the Church, eg the wording of the new Catholic Education Council contract for teachers.
However, essential to the continued existence of Catholic schools is the supply of college trained teachers. The Catholic colleges of education have been reorganised in line with government policy and this has caused some bitter controversy. There is still great concern over the reduction of teacher training places among the bishops, who fought the plans of the government largely without success.
What was highly significant is that the government questioned the proposition that the basic purpose of the Catholic colleges was the training of teachers to serve the needs of Catholc schools. Admittedly, there were a substantial number of nonCatholics in the colleges as a whole but more serious was the fact that many of the students on graduation failed to take up places in Catholic schools, preferring to apply instead to county schools.
There arc three warning signs here; the attitude of the government, the support the Catholic community gives to the Catholic colleges of education, and the future position of our schools.
Firstly, the government abandoned the customary procedures on consultation with the bishops. They also informed the bishops that in a changing world they could no longer commit a proportionate share of the public sector teacher training programme to colleges supported by any one denomination. The government wasted no time in using its powers to allocate reduced numbers of students in the Catholic colleges. As a consequence some colleges had to close, others have been federated or amalgamated and the preparation of teachers for Catholic schools has been damaged. New attitudes and more realistic approaches will be necessary in the future to attract and recruit graduates from the universities and polytechnics to teach in Catholic schools.
The second warning concerns the colleges themselves and their ability to educate and train Catholic teachers. Because a number of the colleges were overly concerned with their academic status they had a strong tendency to disassociate themselves from the more pragmatic religious aims of their institution. Consequently, the teachers who were trained in them had an educational diet which duplicated that of the secular establishments. The Christian input was often risible rather than visible and the teachers who arrived in Catholic schools may have had strong personal conviction but not enough knowledge to argue persuasively for their belief in Christian education.
The Catholic comm unit y gave, and still gives their colleges much generous and uncritical support; this was especially seen during the campaign to save the threatened colleges. However, was it, and is it, deserved? How many of these colleges taught their students about the philosophy of Christian education? Did all students teach in a Catholic school while members of the college? Did the colleges seriously attempt to develop a corporate distinctiveness in a Christian way? These questions should answer themselves but it is far from certain that they can. Too often educationalists within the Catholic colleges become particularly vulnerable to the influence of fads, slogans and marginal issues.
Thirdly, the government's arguments and the position of some colleges present a more serious warning. That is that for whatever reason a Catholic school admits non-Catholics, these admissions leave it open to have its purpose questioned by a future government which might be eager to complete the already clear movement to bring all teacher training and all schools under the control of Whitehall.
They are clear expectations of a teacher in a Catholic school which go beyond the call of ordinary duty. ln-service training courses need to assist and prepare teachers in meeting the challenge of contributing to a community's development. Catholic schools do possess advantages; their atmosphere can help lead to a genuine feeling of worthwhileness and belonging for the teacher and pupils. However, teachers who work in them need not only the support of parents and parishes but they require practical support especially on the pastoral and spiritual dimensions of their work.
Obviously, there are no easy solutions to the problems involved with the recruitment of staff for Catholic schools. Certainly, it demands more imaginative responses than we see at present. Much more promotion of Catholic schools, on the lines recently adopted by the Archdiocese of Birmingham, would be a welcome start. Nevertheless, our judgement and decisions about the future direction of Catholic education are increasingly flawed as a result of a lack of research. Much of the 'research into Catholic education that exists, and there is little, is highly negative about the existence of Catholic schools. This should not discourage our search for clear Christian educational principles based on the values and practices within the best Catholic schools.
An ongoing national debate about the quality and direction of Catholic schools needs to be
initiated. Catholic teachers in particular, with their dual responsibility, have to bear the extra burden of one reform after another and the most common response to the current problems has been to blame the teachers themselves. This convenientally relieves others from their responsibility and allows the government to impose its own conditions on teachers which make them answerable to the Department of Education and Science rather than to local parents and the Catholic parish community.
This is why Cardinal Hume's presidency of next year's North of England Conference on Education is timely. The theme of the Conference is "Promoting Partnership in Education building bridges". Cardinal Hume needs to remind the government that bridges are built from both ends.
There is no ideal more exhilarating or more worthwhile than that of teaching in the service of Christ. It deserves the greatest encouragement and practical support from the Catholic community as a whole. In a recent Pastoral Letter the Archbishop of Birmingham urged Catholics to "consider teaching as one of the highest callings a man or woman can have."
James Arthur spent eight years teaching in a Catholic school. He is now at Worcester College. Oxford researching a DPhil on Catholic education.