Prophets of the Future 3: Sectarianism and Catholic Schools

In this series, MEduc4 students on the ‘Prophets of a Future not our Own: Catholic Schools and Contemporary Issues’ elective course reflect on how a Catholic educational perspective can enhance school’s’ approach to current challenges.

Maria Haggarty, MEduc4

Sectarianism is a contemporary phenomenon with historical roots, often linked to religious antagonism between Catholic and Protestants. However, framing the antagonism purely in terms of Catholic and Protestants narrows ‘sectarianism’ to religious bigotry, whereas contemporary sectarianism is a wider societal issue. Evidence proves sectarian prejudice and activity spills beyond Christian borders; neither one specific group, nor individual solely experience sectarianism (Scottish Government, 2015), rather it embraces a wide range of issues that some pupils may have encountered: immigration, racism, intolerance and/or prejudice (McKinney, 2018).

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The changing definition of sectarianism

The term sectarianism has therefore evolved from beyond the realm of inter-denominational struggles between Catholic and Protestants to a broader definition reflecting Scotland’s more globalised and diverse society. McKinney (2015), when developing his own definition, states sectarianism is a social challenge, one that is associated with religion or ‘quasi’ religion convictions, customs, which create a specific selfhood and exclusivity, which may lead to radical mentalities and conduct. The Morrow Report, (Scottish Government, 2015), reported when attempting to determine what sectarian was in the restricted religious sense from anti-migrant, racist, prejudiced employment, and reduced societal participation was comparable to ‘unscrambling eggs.’
In contrast to this evolving and broadening definition stands the sensationalist nature of the reporting of sectarianism within the Scottish media coupled with prominent societal figures stating Catholic schools are divisive and perpetuate sectarianism, creating a problematic discourse that Catholic schools are no longer relevant within diverse contemporary Scotland (McKinney, 2015). Those voicing such comments have not substantiated their statements with either Government statements or policies regarding sectarianism, nor with academic research. Most media reporting focuses on certain rivalries within football, which is significant in shaping wider public opinion, and/or encounters with sectarianism (Scottish Government, 2015). This has implications for teachers in the classroom: our pupils of today are the technology generation, accessing social media from an early age. Therefore, exposed to widescale rhetoric surrounding sectarianism means they may arrive in class with their own unintended misconceptions, that sectarianism purely exists within Scotland between Catholic and Protestants.

Effective pedagogies and practice

The Irish-descended Catholics and the many others who make up the population of Catholic schools and their families may have encountered hostility and prejudice first-hand, either historical hostility towards their communities, or contemporary direct experience. Thus, the encompassing themes of other world religions, prejudice, racism, and immigration, can be effectively taught through both inductive and deductive pedagogies, both of which are vital to the delivering the ‘divine pedagogy’ promoted in This is Our Faith. An inductive method is based on the personal, relatable experiences of the children in their daily lives, and attempts to identify how God is always present. A deductive method, which seems more conceptual, is found within Scripture, doctrine and liturgy which calls upon children to find applicability to them in their own lives (Coll, 2015).

Inductive approaches to anti-sectarian pedagogy

Peace – one of the seven principles of Catholic Social Teaching – is one of the fundamental teachings of Catholicism, the antithesis of sectarianism. The New Testament advocates for peace ‘How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!’ (Psalm 133:1). However, Catholic teaching does not only focus on the extrinsic concept of peace, but also in the intrinsic formation of peace within each person ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.’ (John 14:27). Evidencing that Catholic education is committed to the intrinsic nurturing of holistic individuality unique to each child and supported through collaborative learning empowers children within their own identity and freedoms (D’Souza, 2012). That reflects the aims of the RERC Principles and Practice document, Education Scotland, stating RERC develops self-reflection, perceptions, criticality, the formation of conscience and morality. McKinney’s (2015), working definition of sectarianism included the words ‘intolerant, attitudes, shared by groups that fosters an identity.’ Catholic teaching challenges these beliefs. Teaching of other faiths within RERC, stated within the Principles and Practice document Education Scotland, creates tolerance and acceptance of other ethnicities within contemporary Scotland. Promoting these beliefs and behaviours of social cohesion, is the principle of Solidarity within Catholic Social Teaching, which appears for example as a theme of the Sense over Sectarianism (SOS) programme. The learning within the programme investigates sectarianism within both historical and contemporary Scotland, allowing teachers to broaden the scope of pupil learning between Christian sectarianism to wider societal concerns of equality and relationships, with a particular focus on the inductive pedagogy principle of personal experience (Education Scotland, 2022). Using the Divided City novel, (Breslin, 2011), within my last P7 placement class, who were diverse in religion, culture, and race, created a learning environment which discussed real-life experiences, through the cross-cutting themes relating to sectarianism of prejudice, hate crime, immigration, community, social class, culture, and friendship.

Deductive approaches to anti-sectarian pedagogy

Despite Divided City fostering a pedagogically inductive approach, there are also opportunities for Catholic teachers to link the novel deductively to Scripture; by teaching and having a classroom environment built upon Scripture. A classroom culture of inclusivity, built on collaboration and acceptance facilitates children learning to ‘have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.’ (Peter 3:8). As Catholic teachers we are bound to teach through and with the Catholic Faith. However, this is not a means of indoctrination: it is a way to show the love of Jesus through our pedagogies and to practice, embrace and appreciate the rich benefits that diversity within the classroom brings (Education Scotland, 2022). Therefore, Catholic teachers through their effective pedagogies and practices shape children in the appreciation of faith, suitable to their stage of development, enables children to understand that while faith is independent of culture, it inspires all cultures (Catholic Education Resource Centre, 2006).
Teaching within Catholic schools is based on love and acceptance of others, standing as a powerful rebuke to all form of sectarianism, and it in turn challenging the sensationalist discourse which would claim that Catholic schools aid sectarianism. In an increasingly diverse and globalised world, and anti-sectarian pedagogy will do no less than prepare pupils within Catholic education for 21st century citizenship.

Prophets of the Future 2: Mental Health and Catholic Schools

In this series, MEduc4 students on the ‘Prophets of a Future not our Own: Catholic Schools and Contemporary Issues’ elective course reflect on how a Catholic educational perspective can enhance school’s’ approach to current challenges.

Colette Wilson, MEduc4

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One of the challenges we face today in Catholic education is the increasing rate of mental illness in our young people. Figures from Audit Scotland in 2018 showed 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5-16 had been diagnosed with a mental illness (Audit Scotland, online). This figure has risen, and in 2022 reports suggest that 1 in 6 children and young people have now been diagnosed with a mental health condition. That is 5 children out of a class of 30. Over half of mental health conditions are diagnosed before the child has reached the age of 14 (Local Government Association, online). Evidence suggests that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on the health and wellbeing of our young people. There are many experiences and issues that can affect the health and wellbeing of the child and certain groups of young people are more susceptible to negative influences on their health and wellbeing and research suggests that this imbalance has exacerbated since the pandemic (SPICe, 2022).

Mental wellbeing and schools

Feeling good and being able to function efficiently, being able to maintain positive relationships with others and being able to live a life where you believe has a sense of purpose are all positive indicators of mental wellbeing (Scottish Government, 2018).
What can we as a Catholic School and as Catholic educators do to support our young people and in particular those suffering from mental health conditions? Catholic education is viewed as being ‘Christocentric’ where Catholic schools centre their education around the person and the teachings of Jesus Christ. A school community with Jesus Christ at its centre ‘‘must work for the healing and transformation of the whole community including those considered to be peripheral or marginalised’’ (Keiran and Hessian, 2005:124). This is Our Faith (TIOF) highlights Jesus Christ at the centre of the Catholic school and asks for us as Catholic educators to ensure children are provided opportunities to encounter Jesus Christ. Teachers are often the first point of contact when a child is experiencing negative effects on their mental health and teachers can often feel like they are not equipped with the proper tools to deal with certain behaviours or situations nor do they believe they have the experience to deal with such issues (Lowry et al, 2022). However, the objective of the Catholic school which is included in the Charter for Catholic Schools in Scotland is to ensure that the staff are supported with their spiritual and professional development and provided with the tools to ensure that each child who has been made in the image of God feels included within the school community and that their voices are heard.

Purpose and happiness

Evidence suggests that there is a positive relationship between religion and individual happiness and that young people who celebrate and participate in their religion are happier (Francis et al, 2020). One of the aims in the Charter for Catholic Schools in Scotland is the responsibility that the school community will share in the experience of prayer. Evidence suggests that people who pray were less likely to display signs of mental illness and that they were able to relate to a greatness beyond their own existence. They were able to understand life as having a purpose and meaning and how they as an individual are part of this life and all its greatness (Francis et al, 2008). Mountain (2005) suggested that prayer was a positive part of a child’s daily life, and that prayer could be used as a way to get through difficult periods in a child’s life. Prayer allows the child to connect with God individually or as part of a religious community.

Petitionary prayer

A potential whole-school approach to deal with the challenges of mental health is petitionary prayer, which can help the whole child to feel nurtured, developed and supported. Petitionary prayer is considered as a request to God for something using prayer (Stump, 1979). We can allow the young people to pray for what they feel is important to them whether this be something they are struggling with or something that is happening in their family or the world around them. Through communal prayer and religious activity children can feel part of a community and share a sense of belonging. Evidence suggests that teaching the technique of prayer to children should allow for them to make personal significance. Prayer is an important part of the child’s spirituality where they can explore their relationship with God, their relationships with friends and family, their relationship with the environment around them and allows them to be more aware of their own needs and emotions (Mountain, 2005). We can also prioritise making petitionary prayer more visible in the school: examples of this are the children working collaboratively to create prayer trees where they can add their own prayer intentions. Praying for others allows children to understand that prayer is obtainable for them also. Prayer trees can be construed in several ways but can be seen as a communal space where children can pray together and where they can feel like they belong. People who pray as part of a community feel a sense of belonging and experience a shared acceptance (Mountain, 2005). Petitionary prayer therefore has great potential as one creative technique that can help tackle the challenges arising from mental health issues faced within our schools.

The National Discussion (Part 3)

Section C: Subsidiarity and the preferential option for the poor

Scotland’s schools – historic and contemporary mission to the poor

There is a rich history of Catholic schools in Scotland’s mission to the poor which can shed light on issues of poverty for all of Scotland’s schools today.  The historical mission to the poor is sometimes referred to as the ‘preferential option for the poor’, or option for the poor, in contemporary terms. While this terminology can be traced to the rise of Liberation Theology in the 20th century, it is ultimately rooted in the mandate in Christian scripture to care for the poor–this can be discerned as a key theme in eg the Gospel of Luke. This mandate from scripture is concrete, non-negotiable (not metaphorical) and always inclusive. The experience of Catholic schools leads us to recommend that all of Scotland’s schools continue to prioritise the education for the children of impoverished households, including children from migrant backgrounds. The mission to educate the poor without discrimination, is an important part of the mission of the contemporary schools in Scotland.

Poverty, subsidiarity and decision-making in Scotland’s schools

The dignity of the human person

The preferential option for the poor noted above is rooted in an anthropology of radical equality known through Catholic Social Teaching (CST), and which has given birth to an ethics of social relations which places the poor at the centre of policy. This anthropology sees the person as a) having inherent dignity and b) being inherently social. Born in response to the Industrial Revolution, it critiqued contemporary philosophies which prioritised only one of these aspects, for example, liberal capitalism only focused on the individual, neglecting the role of the society in protecting the dignity of the person, and communism and socialism focused only on the social level, neglecting the autonomy and freedoms of the individual. CST has been built on preserving this delicate balance between the need to promote the common good of all and protect the inherent dignity of the person; within CST, owing to the social nature of the person—central to the Catholic vision of humanity—these two aims can only be achieved in union. Core to the achievement of both is once more the preferential option for the poor. This emphasises that the poor are a) not responsible for their poverty and b) should be considered as the priority when it comes to the formation of public policy. How the poor are treated, therefore, acts as a criterion of judgement for how well-functioning a society is, rather than economic wealth or GDP etc. 

Dignity, poverty and policy

When it comes to any policy which aims to promote equity (e.g. the Scottish Attainment Challenge, Pupil Equity Funding), we argue from conviction and empirical evidence that schools should be given agency to prioritise remaining faithful to their values and vision (such as their commitment to the poorest) over monetary incentives which may tempt or coerce schools away from their longer-term strategy and values. D’Agostino calls the carrot and stick of funding and accountability ‘a form of coercive isomorphism’ (D’Agostino, 2017). By contrast, Abbott, Middlewood and Robinson (2015), in their study of the Pupil Premium budgeting choices of outstanding schools in England, strongly recommend a values-led implementation of policy. For such schools, the ‘meta-values of the profession’ and the underlying core values of the school guide decision-making, whereas new funding streams and policy can throw a school off course and lead to loss of focus, or decisions that can lack a rationale and link to overall strategy.   We therefore argue for values-led agency for schools, and government restraint which will avoid a plethora of policy interventions in the name of ‘doing something’.

Subsidiarity and participation in decision-making 

The question of who should be involved in decision-making in Scotland’s schools is also crucial. CST’s principle of subsidiarity can be used to bring clarity here when it comes to guiding decision-making. The principle states that it is ‘a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do’ (Pius XI, 1931, 79).  It is, therefore, not merely about devolution, but rather acts to ensure that responsibility is disseminated at the most appropriate levels, protecting both the dignity of the individual by ensuring they have agency in decisions that impact them, and ensuring that the community provides for the individual when they cannot do so for themselves. Drawing on the idea of the person as inherently social, the principle emphasises the importance of participation and agency in encouraging individuals to form communities based on common interests and derive power to make decisions over matters that directly affect them. We can see that the principle of subsidiarity provides a clear encouragement to ensure that decision-making takes place at the appropriate level, and that people have a say over what affects their lives as responsible agents. 

In the first instance, subsidiarity can be used to advocate for collective decision making, encouraging HTs to adopt a holistic educational strategy involving key stakeholders.  In the second instance, subsidiarity would advocate for power to be diffused downwards; those best placed to speak to the experience of poverty are those who are directly affected. Currently, those directly involved in policy decisions such as budgeting, such as headteachers and teachers, may not live within the local area. It would be profitable, therefore, to include the insights of those placed in the local community. The role of parent councils is crucial here, though a truly representative demographic on the council would be essential. The inclusion of parents, classroom assistants, parish workers and pupils themselves can enrich the decision-making process and provide more enduring solutions as well as a sense of ownership and agency. Subsidiarity is in essence an inflection of community; of human beings fashioned intersubjectively into flourishing persons through their embeddedness in resilient networks and places.  Hence, we strongly encourage Scottish education to restore to their fullest potential the relationships between schools and their local communities; to renew the institutional and moral bonds that link schools and their members to families and neighbourhoods, to voluntary, third sector and religious organisations, to social enterprises, business and commerce––to everything that weaves schools into the living fabric of civil society, shared common life and its patterns of daily activity.  

Subsidiarity and Scotland’s teachers

Subsidiarity also requires that meaningful agency be afforded to teachers in the development of curriculum and its implementation. Prof. Mark Priestley argued this very point at the recent Robert Owen Lecture, (Priestley, 2022) claiming that the principle of subsidiarity demands scope for agency at the macro, meso, micro and nano levels, from government strategy all the way to the classroom, and the facilitation of co-operation for joint working between teachers. CST calls such groupings ‘intermediary bodies’ which act to diffuse power within society between the state and individuals. Héideáin defines such bodies as ‘the union of several people for a common good not within reach of the members as individuals in isolation’ that ‘cooperate in providing a common good to benefit all, especially the weaker members’ (1994, p. 897). We recommend that SG and LAs prioritise the establishment and strengthening of such intermediary bodies so that every practitioner is not reinventing the wheel of pedagogical innovation.


Above all else, the philosophy of Catholic Education prompts us to remain affirmative and positive in the pursuit of the flourishing of all of Scotland’s children and young people in the country’s schools. By the light of the Christian Scriptures and the ongoing mission of the Church, we reject fatalism and paralysis in witnessing to the work that can be done with and for the young in building in our schools active, critically engaged communities of belonging and care, trust, respect, rights, dignity, protection, inclusion, ambition, collaboration, reconciliation and hospitality.  We welcome in the National Discussion the opportunity to restate all of those imperatives which seek to empower our young people for meaningful lives of shared, sustainable prosperity, individual responsibility, informed thinking, rewarding relationships, service to society and positive outcomes.  From the same motivations, we hence also reject all diminished or reductionist accounts of the human person and of human fulfilment––whether these derive from the disproportionate claims of materialism, collectivism, individualism, competition or false technological promise. The invitation to faith extended by our schools to its members is, therefore, also fundamentally an invitation to learn; to learn together in order to be generative in the fashioning of a common life and a common good of lasting and transformative benefit to all citizens.  

In the expression of these values and these hopes for the future, Catholic educators look forward enthusiastically to an ongoing partnership with all who discern in the National Discussion the prospect of renewing Scottish education, from its ethical roots, for the tasks of the decades to come.

This submission has sought to articulate some of the philosophical roots of education, especially as it emerges from the Catholic educational tradition, in such a way that it might aid reflection on Scottish education today and contribute to the National Discussion. We hope that it will be received in the spirit of co-operation and dialogue with which it has been shared.

The National Discussion (Part 2)

Section B: The spiritual, philosophical and cultural roots of education and their expression in curricular choices


A growing number of thinkers now argue that since the advent of the “postmodern condition”, there are no more ‘strong’ philosophical reasons to refuse religion or to refuse science. Both, it seems, can co-exist, especially if religious traditions become available in the marketplace of ideas, one among many, to pick from to enhance one’s moral and spiritual life. Such epistemological shifts in perspective tend to ignore the ongoing commitment of religious bodies to offer educational opportunities to explore ideas that might conflict with some modern views. Catholic education remains one of the principal actors on the stage of world education.

What are the roots of the Catholic Church’s desire to educate? The study of Catholic theology is a serious attempt to use human faculties to understand ‘what is believed to be revealed truth’ (Franchi and McKinney, 2011, p. xii), as well as to draw from the tradition of natural theology and contemporary philosophy, including moral philosophy. At least since the Second Vatican Council and the publication of Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church has recognised the richness and insights offered by other faith traditions and has insisted that they be treated seriously and graciously (Conroy and Davis, 2010, pp. 455-456). The concept of God itself is now regarded as a ‘cluster concept’, made up of a cluster of other concepts (Harrison, 2011, p. 5). There is a requirement to ensure that educational and pedagogical practices receive continuous renewal and reflection and are in dialogue with ongoing movements in society.

The future of Catholic education must come to terms with these new conditions of thought and practice, conditions brought about by modernity itself. It is clear that the universal Church’s thinking on education has undergone a significant shift in recent decades. The focus now is very much on education as a means of integral human development and the promotion of a culture of dialogue. 

It would be unreasonable (although perhaps desirable) to expect all schools in contemporary Scotland to have the same commitment to the study of religion and religious ways of thinking which should be present in the Catholic school. Nonetheless, implicit in the Catholic educational tradition is the imperative to develop a broad and deep understanding of the aims and purposes of education.  In this vision, schools are much more than sites of training for employment, but rather essential gathering-points where each generation draws from the store of human knowledge and using the power of reason and accompanied by wise teachers, discerns what it means to live a good life.

For this educational mission to be effective, schools must recapture the importance of knowledge. They must ensure that the curriculum has the potential to widen the horizons of pupils by introducing them gradually and appropriately to the story of humanity in its many narratives. The liberal arts and sciences are ideal conduits for this mission. While there is no set template for such a pedagogical approach, it does require a commitment to a critical exploration of key thinkers and key ideas from both history and the present age. For example, the study of Scotland’s contribution to literature, engineering, science and economics, to identify just four domains of knowledge, should be central to any future reform.

This suggestion challenges the current trends in Scottish education as found in Curriculum for Excellence. It requires a desire to rethink aspects of the Curriculum for Excellence and reclaim the cherished and well-documented traditions of Scottish education. The vision of Catholic education implicit in this section invites all with an interest in contemporary Scottish education to join the conversation.

An example of curriculum enrichment: expressive arts in the primary school curriculum

Our call for equal access to arts, culture, and music frames the place of the expressive arts in the curriculum. Listening to the widespread experience of our students on school experience placement over many years, we have become concerned about the narrowing of the curriculum to literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing (plus RERC in the Catholic sector). Whilst this might have represented an emergency response to the pandemic, the National Discussion provides an opportunity to widen the curriculum once again in order to provide proper balance. We illustrate the current situation and provide some suggestions via the case study of music education.

Music and culture

Music is integral to culture. We sing to welcome a new life, in some cultures at the actual point of birth in others at the child’s Baptism.  We sing to celebrate birthdays, graduations, engagements, weddings and during many other notable milestones in life. Collectively we support our team or country in song, and we send off our loved ones with music and song, be that at church or a chapel of rest, or indeed at the wake or around the grave depending on the culture.  Music allows us to express emotion, both individually and collectively, in a way that words fail to do. It unites, supports, calms and encourages us on life’s journey. 

Yet today all is not well for the place of music in our schools. Although we find music in the expressive art section of our CfE documentation and can read through the experiences and outcomes as with any other subject, it has become a marginalised area very dependent on the particular school or class teacher to determine the attention it receives in the curriculum.

A recent study, Music Education in the Primary Classroom in Scotland (Moscardini et al, 2021), shone a light on the state of music in our schools. Although the majority of primary teacher respondents considered that music was fundamental, just under three quarters of those felt unprepared to teach music effectively. 

Even more worrying would be the place of music when we add social deprivation to the mix. The report suggested that in the areas of most disadvantage teachers were three times more likely to suggest music was non-existent, with few or no resources and little in the way of CLPL available for staff.

Today when we see the rise in poor mental health in our young people would we not see music (and the other expressive arts) as fundamental once again to all our schools in Scotland?

Among the aforementioned study’s recommendations, we would highlight the following: a coordinator for music in every primary school – a class teacher not a specialist, cultural co-ordinators to be reinstated by Creative Scotland to link the school co-ordinators with Third Sector organisations for support, an audit of CLPL provision in each local authority and the need for inclusivity of music provision for every child.

Finally, for our ITE sector we need to consider the amount of time given over to the teaching of music and the other expressive arts in our UG and PDGE(P) courses. We commend a fuller reading of the report and its recommendation.

Part 3 will address subsidiarity and preferential options for the poor.

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!

Photo by Katerina Holmes on

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

Photo by u5468 u5eb7 on

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