Prophets of the Future 4: Results-driven Education and Catholic Schools

In this series, 4th year primary Catholic Teaching Certificate students share the findings of their studies on a new elective course entitled Prophets of a Future not our Own: Catholic Schools and Contemporary Issues.

Morgan Healy, MEduc4 student

Today, the view of education as a measure of success is a globalised discourse. Assessment-driven educational systems are controlled by large transnational institutions such as the OECD, with the PISA testing system in particular having a strong influence. This raises the question of how competitive results-driven education specifically effects our schools within the Catholic education system, which seek to balance a commitment to excellence with the non-rivalrous values of the Gospel.

Catholic schools are becoming increasingly popular within the education sector, with many parents opting to send their children to a Catholic school over a non-denominational school. In some circumstances where the family or the child may not even be Catholic or even come from a Catholic family background. This can be seen in a church’s mission in education, Cardinal Hume argued this point and stated that this could be down to not only the good academic results record but also because parents feel their children can develop other skills such as developing self-discipline, moral resilience and spiritual maturity.

In today’s contemporary society Catholic schools have a reputation for having good academic results and providing pupils with a well-rounded education. We as teachers offer not only to advance the holistic welfare of the child, but also to ensure the welfare of the child beyond their schooling years.  John Sullivan, in his Education in a Catholic Perspective (2013) calls this “concern for the destiny of the human soul” (p. 193); indeed we are facilitating the education of each individual as a whole, which extends even beyond adult life.

Despite the pressures can be built up by large transnational institutions such as the OECD, Therese Hopfenbeck, writing in 2016, sees some shift in education systems, which increasingly focus on educating the child as a whole not just preparing them for the working world. If her analysis is accurate, this shift benefits our Catholic school ethos and values, with our focus on child as a whole.  Within Catholic education this is done by having faith at the heart of our teaching. Catholic teachings should be evident throughout all of the curriculum and subject areas, not just within the one area, where the child is assessed in their knowledge and understanding of their faith.

This leads me to suggest a radical proposal for further refinement and discussion.  Presently, within the subject area of religious education (RERC), the structure of teaching and learning is fulfilled within the Curriculum for Excellence (CFE) therefore, there are assessment strategies set in place whether this be formative or summative assessment throughout the Experiences and Outcomes and Benchmarks.  I have found that this directs the emphasis towards the assessment outcomes of CFE rather than providing the children with the knowledge and values of their Catholic faith.

As suggested by John Piderit and Melanie Morey in Teaching the Tradition (2012), taking RERC out of the curriculum syllabus outline or assessment structures would allow the teacher and pupils to focus on the learning of religious education rather than learning for assessment.  I propose that teachers should decide the structure of how they assess our pupils within RERC in school: they could use formative assessment within other curricular areas to assess the outcomes attained in RERC and to gauge if their teaching has carried over into to other curricular areas. CFE allows this, as it does not have an overarching teaching structure and allows us as teachers to be more creative in deciding their teaching methods, if they worked collaboratively together across all ages and stages to progress the children’s education all throughout their Catholic school career.

The influence and pressure the curriculum and the results-driven education system has a strong effect on our teachers and pupils and this has its effect on the teaching of religious education too. Adapting our teaching and assessment techniques in RERC, can be a stepping-stone to achieve not only better academic success, but also an enrichment of our religious teaching practice.

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