Catholic schools’ popularity increases despite secularisation

Despite growing secularisation, there are more than 28,000 Catholic schools in Europe, educating over 8,500,000 pupils—almost one-third of primary and secondary students on the continent. This reality was highlighted by Paul Meany, a former principal of Marian College, Dublin (1988-2017), and current chairman of the Le Chéile Education Trust in an op-ed in the Irish Times last week.

The popularity of the schools and institutional support from States is such that even in secular France, almost 20 per cent of the population attend non-governmental Catholic schools which contract to meet the State’s requirements in teaching the national curriculum, have autonomy to employ Catholic teachers and to educate pupils in the Catholic faith as part of the characteristic spirit/ethos of the schools, and are funded by the State to almost the same level as French public schools.

Indeed, it is a consistent feature of State policy in most European countries, and it reaches equality in Scotland and in the Netherlands where Catholic schools receive exactly the same funding as public schools.

Research indicates that there are four characteristics of Catholic schools that resonate with parents that accounts for their popularity: (a) they have an academic structure and culture which is sometimes referred to as ‘bookishness’; (b) they create strong internal communities; (c) they have devolved governance and autonomy; and, of course, (d) they have the inspirational Gospel message which gives the school community a sense of mission and purpose.