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.

  • aquifer

    The state has no business maintaining a system of cultural and religious apartheid. Pity they had not caught themselves on fifty years ago.

  • Pete Baker

    Well… the Council concerned was only established in 1989.. perhaps if you clarified your comment, aquifer?

  • anon


    Do you think this means that in future teacher training will be common across all types of school – i.e. the two training schools amalgamated?

  • Pete Baker


    Since we don’t actually know, yet, what the recommendations of the RPA will be.. that’s impossible for me to say.

    But I thought teacher training was provided via a tertiary[or higher] level college/university course?

    It would seem the vetting and employment, in this case by the CCMS, is being discussed.

    Although the suggested advisory role may imply that the CCMS will still exercise influence in that area.

  • anon


    I’m not sure exactly but don’t the students decide what type of school they want to teach in then choose St Marys or Stranmillis accordingly? It seems duplicative (in terms of costs) and unnecessarily divisive. It just keeps a system going which has a big division. I hope that this is up for reform. But I guess it doesn’t fall under the RPA remit.

  • Pete Baker


    The vetting and employment status of the CCMS would seem to be within the RPA remit.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Can someone tell us about the CCMS. How are people elected to it ? To whom is it accountable ?

  • Pete Baker

    There is a ‘Who’s who’ page at the CCMS website, as linked above, Comrade.. but their ‘Recruitment’ page leaves something to be desired

  • anon


    It looks like the new unitary Education Authority will take responsibility for the training system, and this may pave the way for (long overdue) amalgamation.

  • Pete Baker

    Amalgamation of what, anon?

    The training at the minute can be at any degree or equivalent [or an equivalent recognised teaching qualification in the UK.. with appropriate conditions for qualifications achieved elsewhere.

  • anon

    Of the two religiously segregated teacher training colleges in NI.

  • Pete Baker

    You’re in danger of focusing on the NI trees and not the wood, anon.

    It’s who employs and vets the teachers that’s the issue.. who trains them, for now, less so.. although that may also end up being part of the RPA remit.

  • A question from me, an outside observer: in comparison to other European countries, how does Ireland stack up in education?

  • D’Holbach

    Pete is quite right that the (probable) RPA proposal means that CCMS will no longer be the “employing authority” for Catholic schools but will still be there as an advisory body to promote and protect their ethos. However, it seems to me that there are 2 main thrusts to Northern Irelland Office policy which are also relevant here. The “Shared Future” aopproach means promoting sharing over separation and the repeated assertions by NIO ministers that we cannot continue to fund duplicate systems (quadruplicate in Education if you include the Integrated and Irish Medium schools). If the Governmnent are serious, this may mean making a start on some of the changes desired by “anon”. A good place to start would be the amalgamation of the teacher training colleges and the ending of the exemption from Fair Employment legislation for teachers in schools. Personally, I would prefer it if churches had no institutional role in education whatsoever, but I recognise that this may not be a popular proposal in some circles!

  • Alan

    Well said d’Holbach.

    Stripping CCMS of employment etc is inevitable. If we are to make sense of Education and cut waste to the bone, then we need one managing body.

    Retaining CCMS as it is would be wholly anomalous given that Integrated Education and Irish Medium do not have such powers. They should all be advisory only. Donal Flanagan has produced some *interesting* explanations of how he sees the ideal catholic school’s ethos. However, I think even his ingenuity would be stretched to explain the catholic ethos required to administer PAYE.

  • Brian Boru

    Part of the problem in the past was the power of Catholic bishops in hiring/firing decisions in schools. Hence, it was reported recently that a teacher was sacked after reporting allegations of abuse (although I can’t quite remember the details). Clerics should not have a role in such decisions.

  • D’Oracle

    The intimidation of the Catholic church out of schools North and South is totally coincidental. You wont be able to prove a thing and there is no plot.


  • Comrade Stalin

    Peter, the “who’s who” page on the CCMS site seems only to list those who work for it. It does not explain how they are elected or appointed, or how they are held accountable.

    I’m getting this picture of a grubby little quango completely controlled by the RC church.