Catholic schools offer a “particularly successful model of education” thanks to the social cohesion offered by parishes, the Bishop of Derry has said.
Bishop Donal McKeown was reacting to a report commissioned by the North’s Executive, which examined the effects of deprivation on educational achievement.
The report recommends an end to academic selection as a key way to reverse educational disadvantage.
While state transfer tests, which for decades separated children at the age of 11 based on academic achievement, have been phased out, some grammar schools – including some Catholic ones – operate their own set of tests. The continuation of academic selection has drawn sharp criticism from the northern bishops.
Among the key findings of ‘Investigating Links in Achievement and Deprivation’ is that deprived Catholic areas often substantially outperform their counterparts in deprived Protestant areas and the report found a “Derry effect” whereby pupils in deprived Catholic wards in Derry were encouraged to value education highly, leading to better results.
The bishop said that while the educational success in Catholic areas could be explained by the fact that “Catholics were unemployed and it was a way out of poverty”, that would “in some ways neglect the fact that Catholic education is a particularly successful model of education in every country. There are certainly local dimensions to its success here, but I think Catholic education works,” he said.
Bishop McKeown said that social cohesion within parishes adds to educational outcomes. “The report talks about relationships between community and school, school and families, and school and school – that will always be easier in a context where you have the parish. It is always more difficult in the context of reform Churches which tend to be very fragmented,” he said.
Bishop McKeown said “nobody benefits from underachievement in Protestant working class communities” and that Catholic schools are “very keen to be part of restructuring our education system so that everyone benefits from it”.
“We want to be part of a system that values diversity and trains young people to handle diversity. We are always encouraged by the fact that for example in England and Wales the most racially and religiously mixed schools are the Catholic schools and not the state schools.”