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THE TEACHER WHO INSPIRED ME
Besides, the ecclesiological concerns about the effects of academy status may be overblown. Academy status changes the relationship between the school and the state, not between the school and the Church. The bishop would still appoint a majority of governors and there would be detailed legal agreements between dioceses and the new academies. The relationship of individual institutions to other Catholic schools and the wider Church – the ecclesiological issue – is unchanged whether the school is an academy or voluntary-aided.
Perhaps – to coin a phrase – we need a third way. Blocking individual schools from becoming academies will be highly controversial and will generate media and political heat. Parents will feel frustrated and angry at diocesan authorities. Surely, instead, the dioceses need to engage in a broader approach to consulting schools and parents about what the “family of Catholic schools” means in concrete terms in their dioceses, whatever the status of the schools.
Lay people – parents in particular – need to be much more involved in helping to design the education strategies of the dioceses. The running of diocesan schools is now an almost entirely lay business – indeed, Catholic education is by far the biggest lay apostolate. Yet the majority of governors and teachers would have little understanding of what diocesan education policies are or how they reach their conclusions. With the demise of local authorities’ role in education, there may be a need for a stronger role for diocesan schools commissions, for example in helping Catholic schools develop and share best practice, or in developing better approaches to educating children with special educational needs, or just in dealing with failing schools.
I’ve been reading Kate O’Brien’s classic convent tale, The Land of Spices, recently and one incident in particular that she describes took me back to my schooldays: it is that of a child being told off for holding her knife like a pen, writes Catherine Pepinster. At lunchtime in my school, one of the nuns would walk up and down the refectory, checking our table manners. I can see now a ruler moving along the table, a gentle tap on someone’s knuckles by Sr Bernadette and a reproving remark about the wrong way to eat.
This was one of the very few occasions when Sr Bernadette Hunston was ever stern. She was a woman of great humour and infectious enthusiasm, particularly for her subject, English literature. School – St Anne’s Convent, in Ealing, west London – was small, reasonably academic, rather shabby, and its only claim to glamour was educating Dusty Springfield. Its air of domesticity was due to it being not only a school but the nuns’ home, although needlework and cookery were most definitely not on the curriculum. School was for subjects that needed academic expertise – Latin, maths, English – rather than something the nuns considered could be left to our mothers’ instruction.
In the late 1970s, Sr Bernadette took us for English at A level with a choice of eight books that took us from Chaucer via Shakespeare to Keats and the other Romantic poets to the novels of the early twentieth century. Only the most detailed analysis of the entire text would do: when she handed out copies of The Nun’s Priest’s Tale and the edition turned out to be abridged, she said: “We can’t use these, they’ve taken all the sex out.” And she was amused by her own limitations. Attending a lecture on D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow, where the lecturer opined that the only people who understood the novelist were married women, she piped up: “I’ve got no hope, then.”
Sr Bernadette’s teaching focused on an appreciation of creativity and originality, as well as the shape, style and meaning of poetry and prose. She encouraged me always to be hungry for more, whether it was to read the likes of F.R. Leavis and A.C. Bradley on Shakespeare or delve into Petrarch; to devour not just The Rainbow but Lawrence’s poems. She lent me Camus and plays not on the curriculum: The Duchess of Malfi, The Changeling.
But of those subjects it was English at which the school excelled, thanks to a trio of superb teachers – Karen Nethercott, Antoinette Salmonson and Bernadette Hunston – who took the view that children should be challenged and encouraged to read well beyond any curriculum. They would be appalled at current-day examinations that leave 16-year-olds studying just the odd speech: we studied entire Shakespeare plays well before any public examinations.
Literature was a way of finding our moral and spiritual bearings too. One of the books she gave me, by Thomas Merton, is still on my shelf, with her inscription: “For your thoughts and further thoughts.” I imagine that, like me, the many seminarians she has since taught at Allen Hall in London have been inspired by Bernadette Hunston to keep thinking.
■ Catherine Pepinster is the editor of The Tablet.
Opportunities provided by changing the role and structure of diocesan schools might allow dioceses to nurture a stronger notion of what the “family of Catholic schools” means in practice. Agreements could be negotiated between dioceses and would-be academies to ensure, among other things, that Catholic ethos and practice is maintained and developed, that the schools are properly comprehensive in their intake, that they cooperate systematically with other schools – particularly those that are under-performing – that there is the best possible provision for children with special educational needs, and that national pay and conditions are regarded as a floor but with governors having the flexibility to vary upwards. Beyond that, they should be free to manage their affairs.
more innovative. Catholic schools are no
Academy status changes the relationship between the school and the state, not between the school and the
Church longer just about educating the Catholic tribe. More than a quarter of children in our schools are non-Catholic and in some dioceses the figure is a half. The option posed by the Bishop of Lancaster in his New Year pastoral letter of close or retain is surely not the only approach. Beyond evangelisation, surely Catholic educational ethos has much to offer wider society. Why not develop schools grounded in Catholic ethos but where Catholic pupils are intentionally not the majority? Or encourage wealthy Catholic entrepreneurs to come together to sponsor academies and free schools, particularly in disadvantaged areas, as the education
In the long term, the Government’s changes should inspire the Church to be charity Ark Schools has done? And can we not encourage the best Catholic schools both in the state and fee-paying sectors to sponsor under-achieving ones? Ministers have presented a strong case for a more decentralised, flexible, innovative, parent and child-centred approach to state education. It enjoys broad public and political support and, implemented in the right way, is in line with Catholic teaching. Ignoring these developments, or frustrating their intention by superimposing overly bureaucratic structures, will lead to damaging disputes between Catholic parents and dioceses and undermine the cause of Catholic education in this country.
■ Mike Craven is chairman of governors, Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, London. He is writing in a personal capacity.
s2 | TABLET Education | 4 February 2012 Robert (a pseudonym) was about 12 when his parents were shot in front of him by the soldiers of the Tatmadaw, the Burmese generals’ army in Karen state. He grabbed his brother and fled into the jungle and kept going until he reached relatives in Yangon, as the former Burmese capital Rangoon is now known.
His relatives put him through secondary school and were proud that he was regarded as “university material”. He learnt Japanese and had secured a scholarship to study at a prestigious university in Japan but, when he applied for a passport, the junta refused him mainly because of his ethnicity and suspicion of his being an insurgent in the world’s longest-running civil war.
So Robert went back into the jungle to reach Thailand and ended up in a refugee camp near the Thai border town of Mae Sot. He found out about the tertiary education programme offered by the Australian Catholic University (ACU) to refugees in situ, passed the entrance test, studied eight subjects, from human rights through to leadership skills, and graduated with a diploma in liberal studies in 2010.
Robert’s story is no more dramatic than that of the majority of Burmese refugees languishing for years in nine refugee camps along the porous Thai-Burma border. The difference is that he now has a tertiary qualification from an internationally recognised university. That will open many doors for him, add to the intellectual capital of the camps that have seen a haemorrhage of teachers, social workers and community leaders in recent years to the countries of resettlement, and give him the opportunity to “serve our people”, a mantra intoned by all these highly motivated Burmese students.
It is estimated that fewer than 1 per cent of the world’s refugees has access to higher education. The reason is that being cooped up in a refugee camp was regarded as a temporary phenomenon. Recent statistics belie that. Over the last decade, the number of protracted refugee situations (defined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as “being in exile for five years or more”) has risen from 45 to 90 per cent. The length of average stay in a camp has gone from nine years in 1993 to 17 years today and some of our students in their twenties were born in the camps.
ACU graduated its first students in 2006 in a diploma in business, followed in 2008 by a certificate in theology. Both courses were offered online with an occasional visit by a tutor. A study centre, computers and internet connection were supplied. The approach was centred on what the individual could derive from the course rather than looking at the process through the lens of how the whole community could benefit. That hinges on the community recognising its own needs.
Consequently, in 2008, a community development approach was taken to the programme, beginning with interviews with the refugee elders, community-based
Teaching peace and trust A Catholic university’s programme has brought higher education to young people in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, reports Duncan MacLaren, helping them prepare for their country’s freedom organisations, past students and international educational NGOs to build up a picture of which courses could be offered to benefit refugees and migrants. A kind of wish list was developed and some courses on that list were able to be delivered because of the participation of, initially, four Jesuit universities in the United States. Three of them remain – joined by a (secular) Canadian university, York University in Toronto.
This approach also changed the methodology of the entrance test. Students were tested on not only their English abilities and aptitude for academic study but also their motivation towards serving the common good. The ACU Memorandum of Understanding with students asks them to devote at least two years after graduating to serving refugees or migrants as a non-enforceable moral commitment.
The interviews resulted in a number of changes. A fixed study centre with accommodation was established and an attempt made to include as many ethnicities as possible, as well as to maintain a gender balance. Burmese migrants, many of whom have even fewer rights than the refugees, were also incorporated into the programme. Peace- and trust-building exercises were introduced among the diverse ethnic groups of mixed religious traditions.
An effort was made to humanise the programme for young people, who have suffered severe trauma, by lecturers visiting to teach face to face, not just online, and by employing a full-time resident tutor as well as a local coordinator for logistical and security concerns. ACU also teamed up with the Marist Fathers in Ranong, Thailand, so that capable students from the migrant community could have a better future than ending up in the 24 hours a day fish factory.
Researching whether graduates had used their qualifications for the common good, we discovered that most had obtained jobs with community-based organisations or non-governmental organisations (NGOs) serving the refugee and migrant community, and the few who had been resettled to third countries managed to obtain entry to a university degree course with a scholarship on the basis of their ACU qualification. One graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from ACU in
The graduation in Mae Sot of refugee students from Burma, August 2010
Melbourne in early 2011.
As a Catholic university, it is important for ACU to gauge whether the programme has operated within the Catholic intellectual and social tradition. Looking at the programme through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching principles, it ticks many of the right boxes – the participation of the community in the choice of subjects taught, the inclusion of all regardless of ethnicity, gender or religion and using peace-building techniques to ensure community harmony. It concentrates on increasing the students’ confidence and providing them with the capacity to be community leaders to promote the well-being of all their people, regardless of ethnicity, and enabling them to deal with UNHCR (the UN refugee agency), NGOs and the Royal Thai Government to restore to refugees and migrants more agency over their own lives.
The programme was pivotal in providing a model for Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM), a Jesuit initiative connecting the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) with Jesuit universities to provide higher education to three pilot programmes among refugees in Malawi, Kenya and Syria. Open Universities Australia, which runs an online degree programme for Burmese refugees and migrants with participating Australian universities along the border, is adopting the ACU model for its new Bachelor of Education programme to be based in Mae Sot. Meanwhile, UNHCR has just brought out a major report on refugee education (Sarah Dryden-Peterson, “Refugee Education: a Global Review”, UNHCR 2011) making a case for not just
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