BY LYNNE THORABIE
THE CATHOLIC hierarchy this week condemned "unchecked market forces" for having a harmful effect on education in this country.
In a speech at a LMS Local Management of Schools conference given in Leeds, Bishop David Konstant said that it was "increasingly clear that, in a mainly marketdriven education system, it is the fittest who survive".
The bishop's speech, in which he argued that the poor were not being given the education "to which they are entitled", follows the publication of a new education document by the bishops of England and Wales. The Common Good in Education attempts to place education in the context of last year's preelection document, The Common Good. Copies will be sent to the newly-run Education Department.
The latest publication promises to show how the Church's social teaching can affect the work of Catholic schools and colleges, which it claims provides an answer to "the increasing confusion about the nature and purpose of education".
This confusion, it says, stems from "the tendency to judge the success of both individuals and of society as a whole by economic criteria". The document deals with five main sections the dignity of the human person, subsidiarity and solidarity; morality in the market place; option against the poor and the world of work.
The document, produced by the Catholic Education Service, says that it is now "increasingly obvious" that those most likely to suffer from unrestricted market forces in education are "the poor, vulnerable, powerless and defenceless... Competition in the market place can mean failure as well as success".
Margaret Smart, from the Catholic Education Service, said: "I hope that it will help schools to look at what they are doing in the light of the Church's social teaching; there is a strong feeling that the teachers themselves ought to examine The Common Good".
Successful schools should adopt a system to link good and bad schools together, including joint programmes of development to support teachers in weak and failing schools, and reviewing and amending selection procedures.
Education, claims the hierarchy, is primarily about "human flourishing", and it should not ignore the poor and disadvantaged in society. The report points out that all academic and pastoral policies need to have as their focal point "the human person, the clearest reflection of God among us".
Meanwhile, Cardinal Basil Hume this week stressed the importance of "teaching children the faith".
Addressing a group of Catholic primary school headteachers, he said that he felt that teachers must believe in the spiritual truths themselves that they purport to teach.
His Eminence said: "I do not believe that these truths cannot be taught to young children... if we hold that children are unable to accept [them], then we may be forgetting the part which the Holy Spirit plays in the act of faith. In my experience children have no difficulty in accepting complex truths. It is adults that find them difficult". He added: "In our society religion is marginalised; it should never be so in a Catholic school."
Catholic schools have performed well in recent school lists; OFSTED reports which look at everything in all grades, show that Catholic, schools achieve a success rate way above national averages. Part of the success is put down to the way Catholic schools can integrate themselves in the community.