In 1905, one Miss Agnew sat at her desk in Carlisle and sketched out the “scheme of instruction” for the poor Catholic boys and girls of St Cuthbert’s school. Among her entries was the history “object lessons”: here a lesson on Caedmon and Bede, there Joan of Arc, another on Wolsey, next “the Revolution” (nothing “Glorious” about it). It was history, but it was also more than that – it was a reflection of our Catholic identity.
Today, there is little agreement about how Catholic schools should teach children about our heritage. Curricula vary widely. While those under local authority control mostly follow the National Curriculum, academies are free to set their own content.
This level of freedom can serve schools well: teachers can shape a curriculum as they wish, tailoring it to the needs of their parish and community.
But I wonder: are we making the most of that freedom? When the curriculum is left up to individual schools, what children learn is largely determined by whoever happens to be head of department at any particular time. Diocesan support is available for RE, but beyond that the curriculum is fair game for anyone who might wish to impose their preferences, or in some cases their prejudices, upon it.
If we wish children in our schools to know the wholeness of the faith, in all its creative and intellectual glory, then here we are currently falling short of that ambition.
Yet it would be unreasonable to expect each school to develop schemes of work imbued with the supernatural gaze, weaving different subjects into a coherent statement of the whole, each filled with the treasures of the Church. After all, simply holding a degree, or a teaching certificate, is not sufficient; degree courses do not always include the content one might need, and necessarily take on the character of the institution or training course through which they were formed. When so many of our teachers and leaders do not come through Catholic schools, universities or training courses, then links go unseen, knowledge goes undelivered, and our intellectual and artistic heritage are neglected.
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