Herald survey reveals recruitment crisis for struggling Catholic headteachers
BY LUKE COPPEN
CARDINAL HUME has called for an end to the "constant public pillorying of teachers and for the creation of a new "culture of respect" for the teaching profession.
His comments come in the same week as a Catholic Herald survey of headteachers found that 75 per cent of schools have problems recruiting Catholic teachers.
Speaking to the joint conference of churches in England yesterday, Cardinal Hume underlined the urgent "need radically to improve the teaching profession". He welcomed the Government Green Paper on teaching but expressed msgivings about its proposal to introduce performance related pay for teachers.
He said: "Is is desirable for teachers with similar responsibilities, of the same age„ seniority and experience to be rewarded differently? Personally, I have my doubts."
Cardinal Hume told the conference that the most serious problem facing the teaching profession was low morale. He criticised the constant focus on failing teachers and schools. "I would question the constant public pillorying of teachers," he said. "Weak teachers need positive support and encouragement if they are to improve — and improve they must if they are to remain in a profession committed to excellance.
"OFSTED inspections and the publication of test results have a part to play in identifying problems. But they should not be used as a means of harming the public image and the self-respect of the public as a whole. Constantly focussing on the weak saps the morale of the vast majority of hard-working, dedicated and successful teachers." The Cardinal called on society to foster a "culture of respect"for teachers and parents to replace the existing "culture of contempt".
This week, a Catholic Herald survey of headteachers has revealed a picture of the Catholic school system under strain. We asked 50 Catholic headteachers around the country if they had experienced difficulties recruiting practising Catholic teachers to their schools. Over 75 per cent said they had, with 70 per cent reporting that the situation was getting worse.
One head said the shortage was due to a "lack of Catholics with quality teaching skills". Another said that it was because 'There is no corporate strategy within Catholic education for the development of Catholic teachers."
Several headteachers felt that the new Green Paper on teaching would make it harder to recruit high quality Catholic teachers. Alan Whelan, principal of St Benedict's College, Colchester, said that the paper contained three proposals that could cause problems to Catholic schools.
Firstly, the Green Paper proposes that schools inspectors should judge the teaching of denominational religious education classes. Formerly such classes were ignored by inspectors. Mr Whelan believes that this breaches a fundamental area of independence for Catholic schools.
Secondly, the Green Paper suggests that highly-rated teachers, known as Advanced Skills Teachers, should become members of school's leadership teams. Mr Whelanbelieves this could pose problems when a teacher isn't Catholic. "It would mean that people who might not necessarily subscribe to the Catholic ethos of the schoolwill find themselves in the leadership team of the school."
Thirdly he said that "fasttrack" teachers, marked out at an early stage as top performers, will be required to move around from school to school. "I don't know if the Catholic authorities would be happy to lose their best teachers in this way," Mr Whelan said. "It's not just that they'll be moved from one Catholic school to another. They'll be moved to the next school down the road."
He added: "Thank God for the Cardinal because he has, through all of the difficult periods in teaching, been proclaiming the vocation of teaching and the importance of it as a profession. But we need other public leaders to be saying the same thing."
Last week a conference of Catholic headteachers backed the creation of a new national association to represent their views. The Association of Catholic Headteachers will have its inaugural meeting in late June. Spokesman Terry Murphy, headmaster of St John Houghton School, Ilkeston, said that Catholic headteachers felt that they have no national voice. "This is a completely new association so that they can have a voice nationally," he said.
It is not only among Catholic teachers that the strain is felt. Angry parents in Haringey, north London, have written to Cardinal Hume after their children were turned away from the local Catholic secondary school because of lack of places.
Mrs Lynda Murphy, a concerened mother of two, said: "It should be seriously considered whether more Catholic senior schools should be built.
"We want to to bring our children up as Catholics and we want to send them through the whole system. We don't want to leave it up to the local council to educate our child fully."
Meanwhile, in Wapping, east London, parents and teachers met yesterday with diocesan authorities to discuss the fate of the threatened St Patrick's School.
It is understood that Tony Mackersie, director of Westminster Diocese Education Service, was due to address the meeting.
• A visit to Scotland by Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam backfired last week when she was reported to have suggested that Catholic schools in Scotland could be scrapped under the new Scot tish Parliament. '
She said: "Integration is , right.
"Overwhelmingly, people will be in favour."
However, a Labour spokesman said that her remarks during the visit, when she campaigned on behalf of Labour candidates fighting for seats in the May election, had been taken out of context.
Some elements in local government in Scotland are believed to favour integration as a cost-saving measure.