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Do we need fewer Catholic schools?

Set against personal struggles, moral confusion and fragmentation of knowledge, the noble goals of scholarship and education, founded on the unity of truth and in service of the person and the community, become an especially powerful instrument of hope (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI,2008)

There was a time when Catholics fought tooth and nail to build their schools. In the face of prejudice and obfuscation they persisted in their task, holding clearly before them a truth which we seem to have often forgotten today – that our kids deserve a Catholic education. And more, that a Catholic education is something distinctive, something unique, important enough to make the sacrifice and hard work necessary for bringing it about worthwhile.
And it has left us with some legacy. Over 2000 schools in the maintained sector alone, many of which were built decades ago in the midst of a birth-rate boom and before contraception culture really took hold. Buildings and land, sure, but also a living history, a testament in stone and mortar to the fortitude and sheer bloody-minded determination of those whose feats live on, even if the vision which energised them increasingly does not.
Knowing the history of our Catholic schools, of the hardships involved in securing first the freedom and then the capital to build them, makes one all the more determined to fling a defiant pair of fingers in the direction of any who would seek to restrict our right to educate our children in the way we see fit. To do any less would in some sense be a betrayal – of our faith, yes, but also of the toil of those who bequeathed to us such a gift.
But then, a squandered fortune need not be confined to a property portfolio, and there has emerged the distinct feeling that too often our schools are not quite what they say they are, and thus not quite what they were intended to be.  And if we were to scratch around for a reason for this, then we might move beyond buildings and onto a question at once more fundamental: why do we do this?
The more politic, having long learned the placatory language of faith schools, will here mouth pieties peppered with hazy references to ‘gospel values’ before rehearsing clichés about academic excellence. This keeps the charade forefront, hiding the fact that too often we stop short of delivering the kind of authentic answer we could be expected to give: ‘to build the foundation [of] our spiritual development, our learning and teaching, the formation of culture and our society in Christ’ (Mgr Stock, 2012).
All very well, some will say, but that is just words on a page, a pleasant stroll through a bit of theory swiftly forgotten once OFSTED rolls up and want to know why English results have taken a downturn and FSM kids did not receive enough C grades last year.
But here’s the thing: that quote, that primary mission; it’s not irrelevant. It might take an effort of the intellect to translate it into practical terms, but it nonetheless lies at the heart of what we should try to do. And it underpins why we do it. And it informs the goals we set and the decisions we make in trying to bring it about. 
Catholic School DNA

Only, too often it doesn’t. Whilst we rightly acknowledge the achievements and popularity of our schools, the question of what makes them distinctively Catholic has been quietly sidelined, deemed impolite or just bloody awkward. Yet in the midst of growing costs, a poorer church, demographic change and wider cultural transformation, the issue of what our schools are and how they ought to operate is pertinent. Indeed, both the Tablet and the Catholic Herald have recently given special attention to precisely this.
More often than not, emphasis is placed on the Catholicity of schools as determined by the faith composition of those who attend or work there. Here, the statistics point to a clear trend: the number of non-Catholics attending Catholic school has risen dramatically – from 2% in 1974, when sizes were clearly more suited to constituency, to around 30% now. For some, this is evidence of bloated capacity, since if Catholic schools are about providing a Catholic education for Catholic children our size must remain correlative to the Catholic birth rate. But this gets it wrong. The religion, or otherwise, of the individual who rocks up at the start of Year 7 is not altogether crucial. If we take our mission seriously then the free offer, the encounter with that foundation, will be made regardless. Yes, Catholic children should get priority for entry – assisting in their education is why we built these places, after all – but if evangelism trumps statistics then the faith of the person who stands nervously at the gates is neither here nor there. Within reasonable limits, having fewer Catholic children need not undermine what we do, nor how we do it, and need not be an obstacle – unless some choose to make it so. Which is by far the more common problem.
As such, to suggest our schools are inhibited by the declining number of Catholic children is to grasp the wrong end of the right stick. For if we’re talking about the capacity to generate and sustain an authentic vision of Catholic education, set within the context of an authentic institution, then one must instead turn to Catholic teachers, or rather the lack thereof.
According to the CES census of 2013, only 44% of those teaching in Catholic secondary schools are Catholic. This figure refers to ‘baptised Catholic,’ and is drawn from schools self-reporting (by ‘headcount’ and including peripatetic staff), with the accompanying incentive to inflate numbers in the hope of keeping diocesan spreadsheets looking healthy and diocesan inspectors looking pleased.  If one were to refine the data to qualify Catholicity with reference to active faith and worship, then I would guess (the best I can do, since I know of no data which collects such information) that we would barely break 5-10%.
One can see why, in this context, the task of pursuing a Catholic vision of education would be quite a challenge. After all, how does one keep a Catholic school distinctively Catholic, as opposed to instinctively secular, when so very few who comprise the fabric of the school either subscribe to or live by that vision? The answer is: not very easily. The ‘Catholic’ becomes superimposed, an added ingredient to an otherwise secular model that is distinguished from other forms of school organisation primarily by how many hours RE the children get per week and how many Masses might be inserted into the school calendar in any given year. Or, as James Arthur puts it, ‘many Catholic schools look no further than the secular models of education that surround them. They adopt a dualistic model of the curriculum, which divides education conceptually and practically into a religious section and a much larger secular part… Religious identity is eroded in these secular models, with links to Catholic educational principles becoming historical memory.’
This erosion of identity trickles down throughout the school, as one might expect: after all, how could we reasonably expect someone of no faith to lead prayer? Or uphold the truth of teachings that, in all conscience, they reject? Indeed, it would be callous to do so. And what trickles down also rises up: with so few Catholics in the system, finding leaders is a key challenge. Since school governance rightly insists that key positions are held by Catholics with an active faith who commit to living by the teachings of the Church, so the pool for leadership becomes incredibly narrow. This has an predictable impact on recruitment, but it also encourages further erosion in Catholic identity and presents another obstacle to the fulfillment of that founding vision – in such constrained circumstances, which diocese has never turned a blind eye to such requirements, choosing to appoint someone whose enthusiasm for the Mass was sparked around about the same time as the job advertisement went out, or whose commitment to the faith could be said to be lukewarm at best, where it exists at all?
Some might declare this justified, indeed moral, on the basis of inclusivity and the avoidance of discrimination, though this logic always seems to sit on the doorstep of Catholic schools and rarely moves itself off to harry other groups where freedom of association would be presumed an automatic right. Either way, it presents a challenge. Of authenticity, yes, of honesty, of course, but also of mission. If Catholic education is something distinct, more than mere secular models with some colourful festival thrown in, then having so very few of those delivering it also being adherents to it brings its consequences. Or, in the words of Pope (Emeritus) Benedict, ‘Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual.’

Too many?

Which necessarily brings us to the key question: do we have too many schools? Can we retain an authentic mission within the framework in which we are forced to operate? Can we really claim to be doing what we promised to do when we first opened our schools? If we spread ourselves so thinly, can it really be a surprise that what is presented is often a pale reflection of the fullness of the vision with which we originally sought to vitalise in our schools?
These questions are not new of course, and Bishop Michael ofLancaster probed the very same themes in his pastoral letter of a couple of years ago. Or, in his words: ‘Is it right or sustainable to expect our Mass-going population of 21,000 to support our schools and colleges in which often the majority of pupils, and sometimes teachers, are not practising Catholics? Is it time for us to admit that we can no longer maintain schools that are Catholic in name only?’
Answers to those questions came there none, but the contexts in which such concerns arose have not gone away. They might even be said to have intensified. And so we come to the point where we must at least consider another possibility.
One must admit that in so doing we are thrust under the duvet with some uneasy bedfellows. There are plenty, after all, who will happily cheer the closure of Catholic schools as an aberration in an enlightened secular society, that being their own eccentric understanding of liberty and freedom. Whilst the presence of anti-Catholic voices automatically causes one to react in anger – or fear – and assert the status-quo as a means of retaining social and political leverage, there is little reason to believe that this is what the status-quo really delivers. And as time goes on, and demographics change, we become prostrate before a change we have failed to respond to, instead busily working against ourselves by upholding within our schools precisely those secularised models that we ought properly to be countering. And if we become merely secular schools with some festivals thrown in, with enough protection to let three or four post holders be determined by faith criteria, then those who protest our existence have a point about the (in)justice of our privileges.
We need, therefore, to consider that Caesar’s shilling might have become the millstone around our neck, perhaps even the thug at our door, rather than the enabler it once proved itself to be. As I have written before, the culture clash is making its way to our schools and we are not well placed to resist it. Whilst all focus is currently on the ‘extremism’ deemed present in certain schools in Birmingham, it is a small jump for the mischievous to pronounce that the Catholic church teaches Truth that some would caricature as equally extreme. Indeed for some Headteachers, being Catholic is already a disciplinary issue, and legal action has been threatened for any exam board that allows anybody the opportunity to express an orthodox Catholic viewpoint. A grandstanding legal case similarly demanding the abandonment of Catholicity is surely just around the corner – the defences have already been scouted. All things considered, it might be best to organise a suitable settlement before that becomes the case.
 Of course, pulling down a temple demands none of the effort or intellect needed to bring about its original construction, and so alternative accommodation needs to be considered carefully; these might range from micro-schools, to the development of free-schools (but not under current regulations), to reconfiguring the geography of our provision, to re-envisioning the nature of our delivery, to a quiet curiosity as to whether religious orders might do for our schools what one order in particular has done for the churches of Philomena and Walburge. It is worth noting, also, that there are nearly one hundred Catholic independent schools, whose rates of Catholicity compare even less favourably and whose contact with their state maintained counterparts tend to be, by and large, limited at best. Withdrawal from public provision would undoubtedly be difficult, but it might also prove an important social corrective, allowing us to confirm our belief that education is fundamentally the responsibility of the parents with which schools assist, a principle long since abandoned by the state sector and an important restatement of liberty in a world increasingly hostile to Catholic witness.
Responses to these challenges will naturally oscillate between those who prefer reform and those who counsel reformation, but it is nonetheless a reality we need to face. Integrity and honesty demand it. Those who sit in the pews each week and dig into their purses for yet more pennies to support our collective mission present us with a moral responsibility to be what we were intended to be and what we still say we are. It was the hard labour of their and our forebears that built what we possess today, in order that we might proclaim to their children the fullness and joy that is the Word made flesh. Should we cease to make that proclamation, should we cease to be able to make that proclamation, indeed should we buckle before modern day authorities who demand a rebuke for those who dare do so, then we betray those who came before us. And the very stones cry out.

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Other articles which might interest:

RE in Schools – Evangelise or Secularise?

Not For a Fire in Ely Fen

Catholic Schools and Education

Catholic Schools and Education – Redux

Gove’s Traditionalism and Catholic Education

The Rising Tide

Teaching (anti-Catholic) History

There May Be Trouble Ahead

Marriage and Schools

‘Not for a fire in Ely fen…’

It was at a dance festival where the thought first occurred. A rather good dance festival, as it goes. Featuring 16 or so (I confess I lost count) local schools who put on their own particular dance for an auditorium filled with proud family and friends. All ages, all abilities, all themes.
Did I mention it was good? It really was. The kind of thing that leaves one with a warm glow and a feeling of satisfaction that we, too, in some small way, help make this. That for everything we have to carp about, the kids will be alright.  They will.
And my own daughter? Well, her and her Reception class danced the story of Noah. It was excellent. I, on the front row (like any self-respecting embarrassing Dad), could not have been more proud. It was the only dance with a religious theme, mind (another school [rural, CofE] performed an excellent telling the story of St George, with full Wagner-esque pomp ). These four year olds, telling the story of Noah, each movement meaning something, each child in his or her particular place, moving at a particular time, along to particular music, a sort of beautiful, post-toddler kinaesthetic symphony.
And then I heard it: ‘what’s that then?’ It was from an adult couple in my vicinity. They were referring to the rainbow. And the appearance of dry land, I think. Anyway, it soon became clear that they were not the only adults sat round and about who did not know much about the story of Noah. Or what happens in it. Or what certain fundamental aspects of the story mean. Or what they tell us. Or how they shape us. Still.

And so that thought with which I started: my four year old daughter, and her colleagues, already in possession of more knowledge, in this regard more cultural capital, than a selection of perfectly respectable, intelligent, discerning adults. And if it’s Noah for four year olds then we might imagine where the boundary lies come sixteen.
Mad, that.
But it linked to something that has had me curious for a while. It’s this Hirschian revolution thing, which I’m a fan of really. I’ve always wondered why it is so light on the theological. So scant with the scriptural. Hirsch, to be sure, does give (brief) mention to these things, and his devotees at least tip their hats in that direction, but it rarely goes farther than that. And the question would have to be: why not?
If cultural capital is an important thing, then scriptural knowledge is central to that. Indeed, if cultural capital and intellectual heritage is an important thing, then theology is central to that. Literature, art, music, science, philosophy, law, language – take your pick. To the extent that I’ve just deleted a paragraph worth of apologia for such a claim on the basis that it seems so startlingly obvious that anyone who either cherished or possessed any of the above couldn’t really fail to acknowledge or be aware of it.
But then that last bit is the key, isn’t it? Being aware of it. Our canon is currently fighting a war against claims of imperialism when it should be fighting a war against threats of philistinism. For currently it sacrifices too much in the name of being open minded, and in so doing gives away the key to distribute precisely that cultural capital which really does open minds. And so the philistinism creeps on and consumes the canon, as those charged with populating it become less and less aware of that with which it might be populated.
It’s a common enough recognition, that the Dark Ages were a period of time when Western culture was nearly drowned by philistinism, to be preserved only by the monks in their scriptoria, East and West, frenziedly copying down the jewels of human thought, Christian and heathen alike. They saved the West, or so the annals tell it.

The thought never occurs that such a project might ever be needed again. Not because the knowledge will disappear in a flurry of ashes as libraries burn to the ground, but because it might lie as dust, itself the sign of neglect, forgotten in plain sight, a relic that disintegrates through lack of curiosity from a modern day Eloi who have decided there are more important things to pursue. 

And so we should raise a glass to our Catholic schools, indeed to all faith schools who authentically live their calling, busily preserving the treasures of our culture, the roots and foundations of it and all, the modern day monks in their scriptoria, frenziedly preserving what the contemporary has decided, in its own fit of philistinism, to casually cast away.

And a casual reminder to those who don’t of why they really should.

Why I’m Striking

I have a child in school. In Reception class to be more precise. I also have three other pre-school children. And, God willing, who knows what else the future might bring.

And so, as I send my child off to school each morning, the hope and emotion I feel is that of a parent, not a professional. I want the best for my kids. We all do. It’s only natural.

What does this mean?

Well, it means I want a qualified teacher standing in front of her. A teacher who is not so exhausted from the excess demands of the job that they have not had time to plan lessons properly. A teacher who has the time to look at her work and tell her what is good about it, and tell her how it could be even better. A teacher who is not so creaking with workload that the intangibles which really do shape an education are not forever competing with an almighty focus on the measurables which can distort so much. A teacher with the time and freedom to talk to my child, to cherish her, to help her flourish, to keep her steady as she makes her first steps in this complex and sometimes confusing world. And to educate her. To make her cleverer. To open doors for her and give her the confidence and grounding to walk through them. Not a number on a progress sheet, but a person. A human person. A beautiful soul.

Teachers, on the whole, really are heroes. My child’s teacher certainly is. But it is often in spite of the demands of this system, or wearily in the face of it, rather than because of it. This is as true for secondary as it is for primary.

An education system that alleviated these conflicts would be a better education system. And if striking is one way of trying to bring about those improvements, then so be it.

Which means that I’m striking for my kids. And I’m also on strike for yours.

And I’ll stand proud in doing it.

And for those who have chosen to cross the picket line, just one question: who are you really doing it for?

Top Teachers Don’t Teach

There is no more pernicious idea in education than the idea that teachers should not teach.

Of course, it is never stated as explicitly as this, and there will be those who will reject outright that this is where their ideas and methods lead, convinced that their own particular variant of this noxious ideology is not actually all that noxious nor really an ideology.

Most commonly, we hear it expressed in the benign sounding context of empowerment, a romantic liberation of the constricted child from the chains of the didact – no mere brick in the wall shall they be – free to spread their wings and work out for themselves the intricacies of the Trinity, or the photosynthetic process; teacher talk is bad, oppressive, a cruelty inflicted on blossoming flowers not created for the passivity necessary in the act of listening to someone else speak for a bit; it is student-led learning, the independent and the free, that is Good.

When phrased in such way, and with such moral certitude, the possibility that these ideas might be rejected on philosophical grounds, because they are bad ideas, or on pragmatic grounds, because they are not really very effective strategies, is alien. Better by far to assume the recalcitrant lacks confidence, or capability, or a soul.

Well, if you wish to play like that, let us turn the tables: if you genuinely cannot comprehend that people might oppose student-led learning on firmer grounds than their own character flaws, then you yourself are intellectually stunted. And the responsibility for addressing that is more yours than it is mine.

Truth be told, this whole student-led gig is nothing but the desire to diminish the role of the teacher. It might be delivered in pious power ballads, evoking tear-jerking personal testimony of how Bob in Year 9 once explained the intricacies of quantum mechanics more effectively than I, the teacher, ever could have managed, as if this is a cause for celebration rather than concern. But at root it says nothing more than this: we don’t really need an expert sat at the front of the class. Or anywhere else, really.

No, in reality we are just dispensible task-setters, useful only up until that point at which someone else comes along and delivers tasks with more and better whizz-bangery, or fills in admin records more efficiently, or is willing to do longer hours and more break duties.

Maybe this is the result of weary necessity: the de-skilling of the profession and the institutional morale hit that has come with it. Maybe it is that lingering ‘progressive’ ideology that always was uncomfortable with traditional hierarchies of power. Maybe it is just lethargy, a profession seeking to take the line of least resistance against an OFSTED that, for want of anything insightful to write, reaches for the ‘too much teacher talk’ when struggling to fill in the blank space on their lesson observation forms. Maybe it is a wilful misunderstanding of the nature of teacher talk – truly a piece of theatre when done well – or maybe it is the perceived kudos that comes from appearing to be in control by, well, giving away control, avoiding the responsibility conferred by authority by reconfiguring the demands of that responsibility and the nature of that authority. After all, student-led learning is all fluffy and nice, and one must be terribly self-assured to do that kind of thing, no?

That it might not be all that effective? Pah. You’re missing the point. And who asked you anyway?

I dish out my fair share of stick to the NewTraddie herd for blithely indulging in their own sloganeering and tilting at their own windmills, but one response that cannot really be denied is this: that beyond the realms of the digital NewTraddie Wonderland, the Blob reigns supreme.

And it’s still telling teachers they shouldn’t teach. And I’m not really sure what our kids have got to gain from that. 

Our Island (Cock and Bull) Story

One thing has to be said for post-Reformation propaganda – it has serious longevity. As I outlined a few weeks back in an article on anti-Catholic history, the myths and propaganda of the anti-Catholic narrative have become such common currency that, even after hundreds of years and patient refutation, they continue to be peddled as fact by those who might otherwise pride themselves on their erudition and intelligence.

Well, as a handy example we have here Rev Pete Hobson, involved in organising the burial of Richard III, responding to the suggestion that integrity would demand that Richard III be given a Catholic ceremony;

‘There’s been widespread misunderstanding on this point, which might be summed up in the way people use the word ‘Catholic’ when what they really mean is ‘Roman Catholic’. Richard lived before the Reformation when the very term Roman Catholic wasn’t in use – and all English Christians were Catholic, that is they all saw themselves as part of the one, world-wide church. But what is clear is that since the English Reformation, the Church of England is, in law, the true Catholic church of the land, in full continuity with the earlier generations. Moreover the churches Richard worshipped in are, where they still stand, the churches that now belong to the Church of England – and St Martins Cathedral is a case in point. It was there in King Richard’s time, and it’s still there now.

So of course our service will be catholic – how could it not be? But it won’t be Roman Catholic as such – a later innovation! [yep, he did just say that]. 

As far as historical and theological reasoning goes, that requires some serious mental gymnastics.

Yet it’s not altogether new. Whilst fables can give succour, they will continue to be employed – let history, truth, be damned.

Which bring us to Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, who is credited as having delivered such a rousing speech at his martyrdom as to have affected the conversion of several bystanders, including Margaret Clitherow, who would later become another of Queen Elizabeth’s victims (and, the legend goes, her unborn child too), martyred for her faith. Percy was offered his life for recanting, which he refused, and his speech proved something of an embarrassment for those seeking a propaganda coup from his recantation. The following comes from the Historical Papers of Blessed Thomas Percy, Vol. V:

“On this the Earl, turning towards the people, said : I should have been content to meet my death in silence, were it not that I see it is the custom for those who undergo this kind of punishment to address some words to the bystanders as to the cause of their  being put to death. Know, therefore, that, from my  earliest years down to this present day, I have held the Faith of that Church which, throughout the whole Christian world, is knit and bound together ; and that in this same Faith I am about to end this unhappy life. But, as for this new Church of England, I do not acknowledge it.

Here Palmer [the protestant minister], interrupting him, cried out in a loud voice: “I see that you are dying an obstinate Papist ; a member, not of the Catholic, but of the Roman Church.” 

To this the Earl replied : That which you call the Roman Church is the Catholic Church, which has been founded on the teaching of the Apostles, Jesus Christ Himself being its corner-stone, strengthened by the blood of Martyrs, honoured by the recognition of the holy Fathers ; and it continues always the same, being the Church against which, as Christ our Saviour said, the gates of Hell shall not prevail.”

Just what he said, Rev Pete. 

Teaching (anti-Catholic) History

For those who might be interested, this article of mine appeared in this week’s print edition of the Catholic Herald:


If history is concerned with recounting the past, then integrity demands that it hold regard for truth. To admit otherwise is to relegate the historical to the whimsical demands of the present. 

William Cobbett, himself a Protestant, recognised this. While writing a history of the Reformation he repeatedly outlined the motivation for (and the manner in which) history had up until that point been distorted to tell a mischievous, anti-Catholic tale. Yet he also, at times, struck a surprisingly hopeful note. “But TRUTH is immortal,” he wrote, “and though she may be silenced for a while, there always, at last, comes something to cause her to claim her due and to triumph over falsehood.”

It is this pursuit of truth that must lie at the heart of the teaching of history in our schools. Sadly, it frequently does not. To recognise this is not to broach something new. Rather, it is to return once again a recurring theme. Indeed, in 1920 Catholics, including Belloc and Chesterton, gathered to discuss the problem of the teaching of history in our schools. Their assessment could be republished today as a more or less accurate account of the state of history teaching in our schools.

The social landscape has changed from the early 20th century, but not much. While wider cultural prejudices towards Catholics have receded, the bias that permeates our historical sense of being has not. Myths still abound: Catholic monarchs were uniquely brutal (post-Reformation that is – little is made of the Catholicism of the Coeur de Lion or King Alfred); Protestantism brought with it prosperity and freedom; and Catholics are not quite English – or, at least, their allegiances can be legitimately questioned. Whether it is in the telling of key events or in the evaluation of key figures, there exists a whole artifice of anti-Catholic orthodoxy which permeates popular culture.

This is not to say the bias is obvious. Anti-Catholic history is not in the explicit statement. It is far more subtle than that. The selection of sources, the weight given to particular events, the omission of key details, the general tone, the assumption of progress – all go to shape a very particular understanding of historical events. As things stand, popular school textbooks used in many schools perpetuate this subtly anti-Catholic history. The most obvious incidences can be brushed away, but the rest, seemingly innocuous, seep quietly into growing minds and disrupt any sense of continuity between our faith, our sense of who we are and that of our ancestors. 

Of course, one could easily respond that teachers should be countering anti-Catholic history as a matter of course, but that misunderstands the position in which many teachers often find themselves. First, it is not uncommon for history, particularly in the early years of secondary school, to be taught by non-specialists whose knowledge of key eras is limited.
Secondly, the subtlety of the anti-Catholic narrative is such that it can be perpetuated unwittingly, especially when this same anti-Catholic story is what most teachers will themselves have received during their own schooling.

Thirdly, teaching workload means that many teachers will simply not have the time to create such a huge store of plans, resources and materials, or indeed undertake the research required to begin to haul down some of the myths presented to us as truth. The temptation will be to use what is already present and seek to challenge any obvious issues as they occur.

There are wonderful historians, past and present, who can and do tell a different tale. Yet little of what they say gets much of a systematic airing in many of our history classrooms. This is because their accounts contravene the standard narrative and so provoke caution, limiting the likelihood of any publisher taking up the cause and thereby limiting wider broadcasting of such views. To question the established narrative is, after all, a political act; better to politely submit, or remain ignorant, than be deemed a reactionary. This is a tragedy, both for the neutral and disinterested pursuit of truth, but also from the Catholic perspective of equipping our young to counter a world that will misrepresent who we are, where we have come from and what we believe. 

Yet, as Eamon Duffy has argued, the established myths cannot hold – in the name of intellectual integrity, if nothing else. This might sound like a call for historical ‘revisionism’. It is, rather, an appeal for our schools to increase awareness among our young of what Newman referred to as the fables and myths of the anti-Catholic record. The issue here is simply truth. It is, after all, our island story, too.

The Church in England and Wales has long helped to fund the development of resources and work schemes for the RE syllabus offered in Catholic schools. It might be time to focus attention on our history departments, too. Could the more eminent among our number collaborate to create high quality resources to challenge the anti-Catholic chronicles? We can only hope. But what is clear is that a sense of who we are is entwined with what we believe. And a more accurate sense of the former might just help us more effectively communicate the what and the why of the latter.

Michael Merrick is a teacher at a Catholic secondary school in Cumbria