The National Discussion (Part 1)

A response for Scottish Education, steeped in the wisdom and tradition of the Catholic faith.

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Recently, the Scottish Government launched the ‘listening phase’ of the National Discussion on Education and invited children and young people, parents and carers, and educators to give their views about what the education system should look like for the next 20 years.

What follows is the contribution to the National Discussion from members of the St Andrew’s Foundation for Catholic Teacher Education at the University of Glasgow. It is important to note that this contribution was not written for the denominational school sector but rather for education in Scotland in general and reflects a philosophy of education that has positively shaped, influenced and impacted education globally for centuries. We propose that this contribution presents a vision of education that is as relevant today as ever before.

The premise of this paper is to suggest that consideration should be given to the philosophy of education that this country and its leaders will espouse. Without guiding principles and an underpinning rationale rooted in solid foundations, progress can be significantly impeded in terms of achieving tangible impact in the shaping of the future direction of education in Scotland. 

The National Discussion is an invitation to reflect a priori on the foundations of education. We address these from the resources, wisdom, and traditions of Catholic Education, for the advance and advantage of all. An integral feature of the discussion for Catholic educators is, we argue, the core concept of contribution to the common good.  Inseparable from the sharing of the living inheritance of the Catholic faith across the generations in Catholic schools lies the key principle that in a diverse, plural and rapidly changing society, Catholic Education brings the richness of its humanism and its historic Christian anthropology to bear on the questions and challenges confronting the whole of society. This it does in our own time as it has in all previous times since the emergence of Catholic schooling.  The principle of the common good is manifest today across the distinctive spectrum of values, learning and teaching, curriculum and pedagogy to be found in our schools––which centre upon the fundamental Christian perception of the child and young person in our society and our culture––and which speak to many of the experiences of Scotland’s young people as they progress through their education in the 2020s and beyond. 

The National Discussion is, as we know, taking place against the backdrop of unprecedented change and turbulence in our nation and in our world. From the global challenges of climate change and pandemic recovery to more localised concerns around mental health, emotional wellbeing, technological innovation and economic precarity, all our schools are asked to navigate volatile and uncertain forces, the impact of which remains incompletely understood as well as exacting for democratic societies to govern and predict. The deep well of educational memory in Catholic education––sustained by the Christian Gospel, the teachings of the Church and two millennia of educational practice––supplies, we believe, a comprehensive heritage that is of enduring value and significance for Scotland today.

The St Andrew’s Foundation in the University of Glasgow is the home of Catholic Teacher Education in Scotland and is an international hub of knowledge exchange and research in the field of Catholic Education. It is located in the School of Education at the University of Glasgow and its Director and members work in partnership with the Scottish Government and the Bishops’ Conference to ensure a high-quality education for prospective teachers in Scotland. Its members are University of Glasgow academics and associate faculty who are committed to scholarship, research and learning and teaching in the field of Education and Catholic Education, including six professors of Education who are globally renowned and eminent in their fields.  

The philosophy of education presented in this paper is one which is consciously promoted by members of the St Andrew’s Foundation. We invite readers to give it due consideration.

Section A: Towards a guiding vision of the human person

A vision of the person and education

Every project of education has an assumptive understanding of the human person and their relation to society. The anthropology which guides the Foundation’s thinking seeks to develop the intellectual, spiritual, moral, and physical endowments of the human person to their fullest potential. It aims at the integral formation of the human person toward their ultimate end of union with God, love of neighbour and generous service to the common good of society. 

The Catholic vision of education also proposes the existence of objective truth and the human capacity to glimpse this truth through the cultivation of knowledge, understanding, wisdom and virtue.  It seeks the fullest of intellectual excellence and has its roots in antiquity as the classical liberal arts were taken up and elaborated in service of the Catholic intellectual tradition, thus creating the most noble and human foundations of western civilisation and global exchange and communication.

The resulting educational vision is founded on the transcendent dignity of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God. This unique dignity places on society the duty to strive generously to meet the inalienable right of all people to education. Parents are the first educators of their children and bear the primary responsibility for their education. Educators aim to share in this essential and profound task in harmony with parents and the whole community. 

Education, therefore, cannot be merely functional or instrumental towards utilitarian goals of social efficiency. The gift of reason, while limited, allows the human mind to come to know, to approach, truth.  All planned learning experiences should be imbued with this recognition and hence be open to the unity, truth, beauty, and goodness proper to their domains. Our view of education aims to nurture a love for wisdom and a reverence and longing for truth, allowing students to integrate faith, culture, and life. It seeks to form mature responsible individuals who exercise the great gift of freedom guided by the intellectual and moral virtues. 

In turn, teaching is viewed as a noble profession; ‘every person who contributes to integral human formation is an educator; but teachers have made integral human formation their very profession.’ (CCE 1982, 15).  In an age rightly preoccupied with identity, we therefore see in the National Discussion an opportunity to renew our deliberation of teacher identity as this is fashioned and supported at the intersection of professional formation, academic excellence, the agreed national standards and––for us–the living witness to the values and expectations of the Christian Gospel.  We welcome in the Discussion a focus on the person of the teacher and how the teacher is to be nurtured and empowered in the building of new educational possibilities and experiences.

Challenges for the new generation and for education in a technological age

In an economically globalised and technologically shaped world new questions arise on a daily basis as to how future generations are to navigate the social, cultural and moral challenges these forces throw up. Welcoming technological progress, we nevertheless highlight in these major moral challenges for the future of humanity. Technologies such as those already in trial using magnetic fields to deliver drugs to ‘remote’ and difficult-to-reach parts of the body, will soon be capable of delivering less benign material. Facial recognition, which can clearly offer advantages to eg banking security and identity theft, can also be used as an instrument of social control, dataveillance and manipulation. Nudge algorithms deployed to encourage social behaviour to be more ecologically sensitive can also exaggerate and magnify undesirable outcomes. Social media of the last 20 years has seen extraordinary opportunities for people (young and old) to give voice to their opinions, feelings and desires and yet strongly correlates with dramatic rises in reported anxiety (including exam anxiety) and mental health problems (Dobrean & Păsărelu 2016). The evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is likely simultaneously to create improved accuracy and efficiency in our daily living and cause substantial displacement and deshabille.  The fortification and protection of the wellbeing and integrity of the person, which is so central to Catholic Education, urges us to seek diligently for better understanding of, and more effective remedies for, the mental health challenge in our schools.  We recognise this has many causes, but from out of our own wisdom traditions we press for a richer and more holistic appreciation of youthful flourishing, confronting and removing the obstacles to it.

While these, and similar, technologies are already in play we remain at the foothills of technological innovation; innovation that will over the coming decades radically re-shape our psycho-social, political, economic and ethical frames yet which currently receive scant attention in the curriculum. Instead, our default has been to offer an attenuated approach to moral, spiritual and cultural education that by and large trivialises extremely complex issues about what it is to be a human and living in a 21st century Scotland faced with so many unknowns. Moreover, in the face of the global race to capture technological advancement, we may be in danger of losing sight of the importance of the foundation of liberal democracy: the civil, political and spiritual liberties and opportunities that optimise human flourishing. While our common life will be dominated by the digital, the capacities to navigate such a world successfully in ways that vouchsafe our civic and spiritual liberties will depend on much more than our digital competence (important though that may be). Indeed, many of the capacities young people will need will remain decidedly ‘analogue’ – the capacity to care (so that we do not build bias into our ‘algorithmic life’); the capacity to love (both at the individual level and, as Hannah Arendt and St. Augustine would have it, as ‘love of the world’- of this planet, its ecology, its peoples); the capacity for discernment and judgment (so that we have at least some resource to distinguish truth from falsity); the capacity for a spiritual life that valorises the right to individual belief, even where that might entail dissent from majority opinion – indeed, by such dissensus is liberal democracy sustained.

To secure such educational aims we will need a curriculum and assessment system that is intellectually robust, genuinely interdisciplinary and considers the craft, the intellectual, the cultural and the technological as providing the weft and warp of our common life. It should not confuse the conditions of good education (courtesy, graciousness, consideration…) with education per se. It should ensure that the bricklayer as much as the bishop is entitled to access the myriad cultural and intellectual resources that equip human persons to have some control over and navigate their economic, public and private lives. It means that the current default in many schools of reducing the numbers of subjects that students take to satisfy a distorting measurement outcome must be challenged and changed, and that some subject realignment around interdisciplinary themes might be desirable. It surely must be wrong that those already advantaged continue to secure further advantage through differential access to arts, culture, music, and civil life. Equally, the moral and spiritual considerations of living through a ‘new age’ must be seen as intellectually and practically equipping future generations for the exercise of sound judgment.

Catholic Education has throughout the industrial era endeavoured to argue in favour of the support and preservation of a broad humanistic schooling.  This is a schooling in which the young are equipped to the highest standards with the specialist and emergent skills and attributes necessary for the maintenance and growth of shared national and global prosperity.  It is also a schooling that offers to young people confident and critical access to the scientific, artistic, literary and spiritual achievements of human civilization––understood in both their localised and globalised expressions; appreciated in their past inheritance and in their present inventive dynamism.  

Part 2 will explore the spiritual, philosophical and cultural roots of education and their expression in curricular choices

A Reflection on the 2022 Cardinal Winning Lecture

By John Macgregor – S6 pupil at St Columba’s RC High School in Dunfermline

On Saturday the 19th of November 2022, a group of S6 students from St. Columba’s High School attended the Cardinal Winning Lecture at the University of Glasgow. We joined pupils and staff from schools across the country as well as university staff and students for this important event. After a tiring early start on a Saturday morning, I was not disappointed by the event and left it feeling very enlightened.

After arriving in Glasgow, we first attended Mass at the University Memorial Chapel. I was taken aback by the beauty of the chapel and its breathtaking stained-glass windows, high ceilings and overall impressive architecture. In addition, the choir sang stunningly throughout the service, and really made it a special event. Once Mass was finished, we walked through the University campus towards Bute Hall, where the Cardinal Winning Lecture took place.

The lecture was delivered by Professor Paolo Benanti, who is a highly intelligent and impressive man, with such expertise on Artificial Intelligence that he is an advisor to Pope Francis! We felt very honoured to be in the company of such a successful Catholic figure, and he was truly fascinating to listen to. The lecture itself was titled ‘RenAIssance? Challenges of Artificial Intelligence to education and formation’ and it gave us an insight into the evolution of A.I. and the impact it is having, and will have, on our society.

It was a very relevant topic for me and my peers as we are growing up in a world bombarded with ever evolving technology and artificial intelligence. This has undoubtedly had a massive impact on our education and lives in general, ramped up significantly by the Covid-19 Pandemic as we were forced to study for exams at home, with our only access to support from teachers being through online learning.

One interesting example that Professor Benanti talked about was the use of virtual reality. He referenced the US Military and how they were able to utilise virtual reality technology to simulate and train soldiers on specific tasks. He related this new way of using technology to education, and it made me wonder if any aspects about our current system could change and benefit from virtual reality. Perhaps in practical subjects, such as the sciences and arts could use virtual reality to simulate and teach certain experiments or techniques. This could save time and resources, whilst providing a better quality of learning. However, I think it would be a negative thing if our education system lost its face-to-face aspect, as it hinders your ability to make human connections and get more detailed and personalised help with learning.       

Another talking point from the lecture was the use of A.I. technology on things like doctor’s examinations. Professor Benanti demonstrated how doctors’ appointments in the future could take place through apps, where we would speak to a doctor through a video call, and all of our medical history, current diagnoses and recommended treatments were presented by Artificial Intelligence. It was a very interesting subject to listen to because it made me question whether such highly regarded, skilled professions could potentially be taken over by A.I. It could render the long, difficult path of study and experience needed for careers, such as doctors, totally useless! On the other hand, though, the use of A.I. in these areas could potentially prove very beneficial to many, such as people who are unable to travel to their appointments for specific medical reasons.

I was most fascinated by the way Professor Benanti brought in the subject of psychology and its relationship with Artificial Intelligence. He stated that 95% of our brain activity was through the ‘fast’ part of our brain, which is used for daily, common tasks like socialising, watching TV and so on. The leftover 5% is our ‘slow’ brain, which is what we use for things like critical thinking and problem solving. What I took from this point was that if we keep allowing A.I. to do more and more things for us in the future, it will slowly turn the 95% of our ‘fast’ brain to 100%. This in turn would make it impossible for humans to be able to stop, think and reflect on things critically. This could pose a threat to education, as it would undoubtedly limit our academic capabilities. However, on the flip side, if we didn’t use the 5% ‘slow’ part of our brain, it wouldn’t allow us as a society to invent and evolve A.I. technologies to start with! These kinds of dilemmas relating to A.I. not only highlighted how important the subject is for our future, but it personally captivated my attention and forced me to think hard about the ethics surrounding technology generally.     

At the end of the lecture, a student from another school asked for advice from Professor Benanti about how young people should use the phones in our pockets. His response really struck me as he stressed the importance of being careful over the information we share on our devices. He mentioned how technology companies can exploit our data and privacy, which I found thought-provoking as we probably don’t realise just how much personal information is shared on our phones, and how it could potentially affect our futures.      

I think the main message I took away from Professor Benanti’s Lecture was that the future of A.I. is not simply about replacing people with technology, but rather about recognising the skills, gifts and talents given to each individual. He emphasised that A.I. could do powerful, beneficial things, however we must carefully consider the ethical issues around technology before jumping to use it for absolutely every aspect of our lives. Overall, myself and my group really enjoyed the Cardinal Winning Lecture, and it left a lasting impression on us, with a lot of vital ethical questions to think about relating to the future of society and education.

My Catholic School – National Poetry competition

Here are the final winning poems of our competition! Well done to both pupils from St Marie’s Primary School in Kirkcaldy. Let them know what you think in the comments below.

Congratulations to all our winners and a special thank you to all participating schools. With over 400 entries, it was great for the judges to find out just how much pupils love their Catholic school!

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My Catholic School

Coming to school with a smile on my face

Because I know the day is going to be great the second the bell rings

The teacher welcomes us politely

First thing, prayers, In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen

Sitting down without a sound

‘Oh, that’s such a well behaved class!’

The school that you can learn in

The school that you can trust

The school full of faith

The school where you can play

I’m so lucky to be in this marvellous school

Doesn’t it sound like a lovely community?

Every single student is ambitious and beyond well behaved

They make sure you’re included, happy, ambitious, respectful, supported, heard, faithful, fair, safe and respected!

The perfect school!

Marek Dus, Primary 6

St Marie’s Primary, Kirkcaldy

My Catholic Poem

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St Marie’s

To all my fellow Catholic schools,

In St Marie’s there are super rules.

We work hard and we are kind,

We always try to expand our mind.

We treat the environment with respect,

And through friendship we all connect.

Every week we always practise hymns,

And in PE we exercise our limbs!

Every student gets the same opportunity,

As we are all part of the same community.

We are all resilient in our own way,

And every day is the happiest day.

And even when we make a mistake,

We always think of the changes we can make.

When new people join our community,

We make them part of our unity.

Gerard Duggan, Primary 6

St Marie’s Primary,Kirkcaldy

My Catholic School – National Poetry Competition

Here are some more winning entries of our National Poetry Competition. Let the winners know what you think! Leave comments below. Congratulations to all of our winners and their schools! Today’s winners are from St Sylvester’s Primary in Elgin.

My Catholic School

My amazing Catholic School is a blast.

You are spectacular at behaving well at Mass.

Children’s faces full of joy.

As they learn and play with toys.

Totally fun exciting games with the team.

Happy place to build up my dreams.

Owen is my name, I have learned lots of skills

Learning new things is absolutely brill.

Interesting sports is what I love to do

Colour of my uniform is a shade of blue.

St Sylvester’s is the best school ever.

Can I come to school forever?

Happy time in school.

Only St Sylvester’s School is cool

Online learning is fun.

Lots of fun with the nuns.

Owen M, Primary 6

St Sylvester’s Primary, Elgin

Our Catholic School

Our school has God at the centre

Our school is amazing

Our school feels like a big family

Our school is the best.

Gabi K, Primary 3

St Sylvester’s Primary, Elgin

My Catholic School – National Poetry Competition

We are delighted to share these winning poems from Cardinal Newman Secondary in Bellshill, St Patrick’s Primary, Troon and St Brendan’s Primary, Glasgow. Let the pupils know what you think! Leave a comment below.

Jesus is the Heart of St Brendan’s



Say Prayers

Under God


Darcie Grieve and Danni Wallace, Primary 2/1

St Brendan’s Primary, Glasgow

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My Catholic School

Jesus the Saviour, Heavens above

Stories of Him, spread with love.

Father Paul around the school.

Stories we get to hear so cool.

We can do all things through Christ.

He really is the light of our life.

In our school we respect everyone’s individuality.

In our school, we believe in Christianity.

Jesus the Saviour, heavens above.

Stories of Him spread with love.

Finding ourselves in a Catholic community,

A sliver of humanity, religion saving sanity.

A healthy relationship with God.

Skye B S3

Cardinal Newman High, Bellshill

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My Catholic School

Our Catholic School,

The uniform, as green as the grassy meadows

The School never leaves anyone in the shadows.

Faith, Inclusion, Achievement, Respect,

These are some things you shouldn’t neglect.

These four things are important to us

Along with community to keep us as One.

Do your B.E.S.T is what you should do





These things make me 

Inspired to shine in all I say,

All I do and all I am.

Sophie Hastings, Primary 7

St Patrick’s Primary, Troon

My Catholic School – National Poetry Competition

Over the next few days we will be posting the winning entries of our National Poetry Competition. Please leave comments for the pupils below. Congratulations to all of our winners and their schools! Today’s winners are both from St Clare’s Primary School in Glasgow.

Photo by Katerina Holmes on

My Catholic School

The thing about a Catholic school

It’s not a place to break a rule

It’s a school of respect and care

And all about being fair. 

The thing that makes a Catholic school

Is more than just wisdom and following rules

It’s about being respectful, caring and safe

And never giving up on your faith.

We treat our peers with love and care

Because gospel values are everywhere

It’s a safe environment we don’t want to leave,

We’re taught if we believe then we will achieve.

But we can’t forget about Jesus who is at heart

He is always a good place for us to start.

Love and respect, togetherness our rule,

That’s what makes a Catholic School.

Leia McGillion, Primary 7

St Clare’s Primary, Glasgow

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My Catholic School

I am in a cool Catholic School.

God is the light.

I look at the cross every day.

The sign of the cross proves that Jesus is real 

Don’t forget that Jesus is real.

Molly Graham, Primary 2

St Clare’s Primary, Glasgow

My Catholic School – National Poetry Competition

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Over the next few days we will be posting the winning entries of our National Poetry Competition. Please leave comments for the pupils below. Congratulations to all of our winners and their schools! Today’s winners are from Our Lady’s High School in Motherwell.

I Can’t Wait To Go . . . 

I step off the bus and the cold wind beats me

I walk through the gates and Our Lady greets me

I stroll into the yard as my friends come to meet me

But I can’t wait to go home

I step into class and set down my jotter

The windows are open but it keeps getting hotter

I have the best teacher, I can’t believe I got her

But I can’t wait to go home

In PE we’re shooting some baskets

Now we’re playing games, a three pointer I’m tasked with

I run past some people because I’m the fastest

But I can’t wait to go home

Time for lunch and I sit by the Chapel

I read about the war memorial as I’m eating my apple

My pals are back now so we’re having a babble

But I can’t wait to go home

Final lesson now as I sit down in History

When I will use this I know is a mystery

Bu it’s a Friday and I’m a bit jittery

But I can’t wait to go home

Now I’m back and safe in my home

But I’m seriously bored because I’m not allowed my phone

I just sit in my room and I haven’t to moan

Now I can’t wait to go to school

Fast forward two days

Now it’s Sunday Mass

I used to think it was boring and hoped it would pass

But now I see Our Lady and hope it lasts

And I can’t wait to go back to school.

Thomas Massetti  S2

Our Lady’s High, Motherwell

Photo by Marina M on

A Friendship of Faith

People of all kinds,

Not everyone the same,

Yet a sea of purple,

To keep us all tame

United by faith we are,

Hoping it will take us far

Towering in academics,

Or studying in the shallows,

Equalised we are,

In our devotion to the hallows

United by faith we are,

Hoping it will take us far

Wherever you’re from,

Whatever your belief

We’re made to feel welcome,

Oh what a relief!

Arianna Bosco, S2

Our Lady’s High, Motherwell

My Catholic School! – National Poetry Competition

Here are some more winning entries of our National Poetry Competition. Please leave comments for the pupils below. Congratulations to all of our winners and their schools! Today’s winners are from St Patrick’s Primary, New Stevenson and St Ninian’s Primary, Livingston.

Our Catholic School

A holy place where we pray each day

A special place where we each can play

A happy place with loving friends

A bonding friendship never ends 

And St Patrick our Patron always near.

Our teachers have shown us how to love

Father Haddock has shown us Jesus’ way

Our faith keeps growing day by day

And Jesus there to watch us play!

Olivia Roberts, Primary 5

St Patrick’s Primary, New Stevenson

Catholic Faith

Christ the Lord,                                 

Always love God,                             

Think of Christ,                                 

Hope is in your Heart,                     

Our special religion,                                     

Love your faith,

believe in one God,

Celebrate at Mass.


Father in Heaven,

A lovely life,

In the image of God,

Try and follow God’s path,

Heaven holds wonders.

Anna Forbes, Primary 4

St Ninian’s Primary, Livingston

The Problem with Christmas Jumper Days!

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As a mother of two girls aged seven and nine, the build up to Christmas at home is magical. Over the last few weeks, the anticipation of Christmas has been quite something. Don’t get me wrong, we always ensure that we observe Advent in our house and contextualise the waiting for Christmas in the Advent narrative. While we cannot escape—nor do we entirely want to—the Christmas music; the premature decorations; the early gift exchanging; chocolate money and mince pie eating; and all of the usual associated Christmas activities, I’m pretty confident that my girls know that Advent is a very special season marking the start of the new Church year and that this important time has its own liturgical focus, colours, feel, message, scriptural figures and so on. The girls are fortunate that their grandparents ensured that Advent was appropriately observed, and that this tradition has passed from generation to generation—a testimony to the faith commitment of the girls’ ancestors (although I can’t imagine that dancing around the house singing Gaudete’ at full volume on the third Sunday of Advent is part of that legacy—yes, that does actually happen!) December is a particularly special time in our household, and we are thankful for that.  

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