Church and State – Redux

In an example of political synchronicity, just as the relationship between church and state is being thrown into sharp relief in the Republic of Ireland, in particular in the area of education, in Northern Ireland the Review of Public Administration looks to be about to do the same. Interestingly, while NIO Minister Angela Smith is quoted in the BBC report as attempting to play down the ‘collision course’ angle, and met a group of bishops last night to do just that, the body whose role is actually under discussion, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools has issued a statement reiterating their view that “the Council should remain a Statutory Body and should retain its status as an Employing Authority.”From an earlier BBC report

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) is the employer of 8,500 teachers and looks after 500 schools. The Review of Public Administration has proposed that the body should be downgraded to an advisory role.

CCMS chief executive Donal Flanagan said to remove their input would diminish educational standards.

“What we are saying is that our ethos adds value to children’s standards,” he said.

“Teachers and ethos are inextricably linked and we want the right to be able to appoint teachers who are committed to the aims of a Catholic education.

“The government recognises, and nowadays almost everyone recognises, Catholic education adds value to the learning experiences of young children and improves their standards overall.”

And from the latest BBC report

[Angela Smith] added: “I do not believe we are on a collision course (with the Catholic Church).

“I met the bishops last night and we discussed this last night, along with a number of issues.

“I can give them absolute reassurance, in terms of what they are concerned about, of maintaining the ethos and the character of their schools, they will not notice any difference.”

While the CCMS statement reads –

CCMS wishes to clarify its position in relation to recent media reports.

The position in relation to the Review of Public Administration has not changed since the period of consultation on the draft proposal closed on 30th September 2005. The Secretary of State, Peter Haine, is due to announce the outcome of the review next Tuesday 22nd November 2005.

Any media reports are merely speculation.

The consultation document did propose that CCMS becomes an Advisory Body rather than a Statutory Body.

CCMS, Trustees of Catholic Maintained Schools and schools themselves have responded to the Review of Public Administration consultation and conveyed the view that the Council should remain a Statutory Body and should retain its status as an Employing Authority.

It is widely recognised within the education system that CCMS has been successful in raising standards. In such circumstances it would appear logical to build on good practice.