Wednesday, 2 February 2011

A historic conference for CESEW

Last week, as the Public Affairs Intern for the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales (CESEW), I attended the joint CESEW  / CATSC (Catholic Association of Teachers, Schools and Colleges) National Catholic Secondary School Conference at Hotel Russell in central London. This conference formed part of the Year of Catholic Education.
It was a two day conference, to which we were welcomed by Bishop Malcolm McMahon, who is the Chairman of the Catholic Education Service as well as Bishop of Nottingham. Father Jim O’Keefe who has a wealth of experience working in education and with Cafod gave a passionate speech reminding the conference of the theological context of their work.

Lord Hill, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State from the Department for Education (DfE) addressed the conference offering the perspective from the DfE. He spoke about our shared purpose in seeking to promote the Common Good. He also said that “Catholic schools have a long and proud tradition of transforming lives” and that Catholic schools do a “fantastic job”. I spoke to his private secretary who sent me Lord Hill’s full speech, so you can read it here.
His main responsibility at the DfE is academies. He spoke at length about the Government’s innovative plans for academies. He made it clear that he is keen that faith schools should be free to become to academies but he also emphasised that he has “no wish to undermine the special status, values, freedoms, assets or anything else that is part of being a Catholic school”.

Bishop Malcolm at the Big Assembly
The Children’s Commissioner, Maggie Atkinson, also addressed the conference with a fervent speech urging the attendees, many of whom were headteachers or deputy headteachers of Catholic secondary schools or colleges as well as diocesan education representatives amongst others, of the need to consider the human rights of children in everything they do.
The final part of the conference involved two former headteachers as they explored the theme of the conference “Stewards of the Common Good”. They showed how excellent leadership of Catholic schools contributes to the common good in their communities.
The moment the conference had all been waiting for finally came when Chief Executive and Director of CESEW, my boss, Oona Stannard took to the stage. She started off by talking about the rapid pace of political change that is taking place in the area of education. There are a number of challenges and opportunities arising for the Catholic education sector as a result of Michael Gove’s frenetic activity in the DfE.  Many of the attendees expressed their dismay that RE hadn’t been included as a Humanity subject in the new English Baccalaureate. However, when she read out Bishop McMahon’s statement about academies there was an audible gasp and a tangible sense of excitement in the room. The announcement could plausibly change the shape of Catholic education provision for years to come. The statement, which opened the way for Catholic schools to become academies, reflected the work of most of my CESEW colleagues in recent months in preparing the ground for this decision.
I enjoyed attending this conference, it was fascinating to meet some very interesting and inspiring people who are leading Catholic schools into the future as well as learning a lot about education in general.
Naomi Brandon
Public Affairs Intern at CESEW

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