Thank you for highlighting the issue of the proposed new professional code for Irish teachers, with all its inherent dangers for Christian teachers in your most recent e-letter. It reminds me an issue that I faced in London some years ago.
Back in September 1986 some of the more strident London Labour controlled councils began a very pro-homosexual policy crusade. At a public meeting I questioned Cllr John Moore, the chairperson of Haringey Council's Education Committee, on this policy. I said that given that as a Christian teacher I would be unwilling to teach that all lifestyles are equally valid would I get a teaching job in Haringey. Cllr John Moore replied with an emphatic "No".
Following press coverage of the meeting and a subsequent campaign by Christian teachers, the Conservative Education Secretary Kenneth Baker brought in legislation on sex education that placed responsibility for such policies in the hands of governing bodies rather than with local education authorities. As part of the same legislation governing bodies were required to consult parents on the content of their schools’ sex education policies.
My well publicised stand at the time meant that I had to leave London and seek promotion to headship elsewhere. Eventually I served for sixteen very happy years as principal of a large Catholic secondary school in Essex and with the help of twenty very supportive Catholic governors and parents I was able to ensure that all one hundred teachers and staff were in sympathy with Catholic teaching and that their contracts of employment, drawn up by the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales, reflected Catholic values.
As a school we were frequently challenged by the local education and health authorities when we insisted that only those professionals in sympathy with our Catholic ethos, as stated in our mission statement, could work in the school. We interviewed every prospective careers officer, psychologist, home-school liaison officer, school nurse, etc, before they were allowed to interact with our students. The diocesan Children’s Society, of which I was a trustee, provided trained counsellors for our young people. These counsellors always worked within the framework of our Catholic ethos.
I do not feel that our Irish Catholic school leaders/managers have anything like the same awareness of the threats to Catholic ethos. Indeed I have been very surprised at how lacking in a spiritual dimension I have found so many Irish diocesan agency and parish organisation mission statements. When I question this I am usually told that State funding would be withdrawn if there was explicit reference to Catholic mission or gospel values.
Thank you for your vigilance in the matter of the proposed new Teaching Council code. I am left asking myself, are there not Catholic representatives on the Irish Teaching Council? The Director of the Catholic Education Service is certainly a key person in the English GTC.