Catholic Education

An overview

This section of CatholicLinks provides an overview of Catholic education; it outlines some basic information about the origins, aims and purposes of Catholic schools.

The section begins with consideration of the teaching authority of the Church rooted in Christ’s instruction to his disciples,

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time. (Matthew 28:19).

Within the Church community, teaching people to be disciples of the living God is not an option, it is a command; the Church was entrusted with this duty by Christ himself and consequently forming and educating children and young people is at heart of the Church’s mission.  This duty is further explored in relation to the formal statements on education in the Canon Law of the Church.

A brief history of Catholic education in England and Wales is considered.  It is necessary to remember the Church at any given time in history was, is and remains a living community with collective beliefs, hopes, dreams, led by clergy and lay people with individual views, opinions and passions.  The individuals, be they archbishops or bishops, local priests, teachers, managers or governors, were also bound by the parameters of their time i.e. the prevailing social, political and cultural conditions; their personal experiences; the Church’s teachings, which gave rise to their view of the world and their actions.  They were part of local Catholic communities as well as the national Catholic scene of the time, committed to sharing the Gospel and serving the needs of others, imperfect individuals driven by their faith and personal motivations.

Over the last 140+ years, since the re-establishment of the hierarchy after the interim years that followed the Reformation, Catholic church communities have given expression to their educative mission, through agricultural, industrial, political and social revolutions, world wars, depressions, periods of economic prosperity, and the growth of a pluralistic, secular, relativist view of life and the world.  The mission of the Church in local communities married with the political agenda of the time to create the reality of the partnership between Church and State that we have today. In our planning for the future we need to consider how we do justice to those who went before us, in protecting the religious character of education in our Catholic schools, whilst allowing for change that strengthens them and secures their future in a changing world.

The nature and work of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) is explored and the work of its agency the Catholic Education Service (CES), as well as the nature of dioceses and the role and functions of the diocesan bishop and trustees.  It is important to know and understand the remit and functions of these bodies.

There is an opportunity to reflect on the definition of a Catholic school in Canon Law, as well as the various types of Catholic schools that exist in dioceses and across the national scene, in light of their legal foundations.  Canon Law provides clarity about the founding principles for Catholic education.

The basic Roman documents, the ‘Vatican documents‘ produced by the Congregation for Catholic Education are also provided with a summary of their core content in relation to the Church’s teaching and expectations regarding the provision of Catholic education through the school system prevailing at a national level.  These documents are both rich and deep in their explanations and bear reading and reflection to better understand the Church’s position on matters related to schools and education.

There is chance to reflect on the Church’s social teaching, in relation to the common good in education.

 … a set of moral principles which have been elaborated and refine through the Church’s long dialogue with man and the problems of human society. (Catholic Social Teaching, CTS, 2003).

There is an invitation to consider how the Church’s teaching applies to the running of schools, and how in turn the work of schools impacts on the common good of society; particular reference is made to Catholic Education Service document The Common Good in Education (1997).

Finally, there is a section on ‘British values‘, which is included on the website because of changes to the then Ofsted framework that arose out of what came to be known as the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham Local Authority and an intent to strengthen the Prevent Strategy, as reflected in DfE guidance for schools and academies.  The State’s definition of British values is considered alongside the values of the Gospel and how these values affect the running of Catholic schools and academies.


Professor John Sullivan

You are invited to take the opportunity to read this article by Professor John Sullivan. CatholicLinks is very grateful for this very thoughtful contribution from someone who has spent his life serving the interests of Catholic education.

Towards a Theology of Education


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