- 4 Jun 2018
It is a real privilege, and a pleasure, for me along with the Deputy First Minister to join you this morning. It was a real privilege for me to join some of you for mass this morning in the wonderful Glasgow University chapel, and to now have the opportunity in this lecture to pay tribute to the life and the legacy of the late Cardinal Thomas Winning. A man who was loved and revered, a man who was deeply respected across Scotland and the world, not just by those in the Catholic faith, but by people of all faiths and none. So it is the utmost privilege for me to be delivering this lecture today and I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity.
It is always wonderful to return to the University of Glasgow – I have exceptionally happy memories of my time as a law student here. There is no doubt at all that this wonderful institution helped to make me the person I am today. One of my fondest memories is of graduating in this hall. Although I should maybe add that some of my less fond memories, are of sitting exams in this hall! Nevertheless, it is always a pleasure to come back.
I am also of course aware that this university is a highly appropriate setting for this morning's lecture, for both modern and historic reasons.
It is the home of the St Andrew's Foundation for Catholic Teacher Education. In various guises, over several decades now, that foundation has helped to train thousands of teachers. By doing so, you have made an immense contribution – not simply to Catholic education, but to the Scottish education system as a whole.
Looking back further, Glasgow University was – like St Andrews and Aberdeen universities - founded by a papal bull. That is a reminder of the huge contribution which the faith has made to Scottish history and to Scottish education more specifically.
As Pope John Paul II said at Bellahouston Park in 1982, "The names of Bishops Wardlaw, Turnbull and Elphinstone remain inseparably linked with the foundation of your universities, of which this nation has always been so justifiably proud."
When Pope John Paul II spoke those words, he was addressing what is thought to be the largest crowd ever gathered together on Scottish soil. His visit - and also of course Pope Benedict's in 2010, at which I was very privileged to be present – emphasised and celebrated - not simply the historic importance of the Catholic church, but also the contribution the Catholic community makes to modern Scotland.
The 1982 visit was also, of course, one of the crowning achievements in the career of Thomas Winning, who at that time was Archbishop of Glasgow. There is a very real possibility that without the intervention of Archbishop Winning the visit would have been postponed, because of the Falklands War.
In 1994 Archbishop Winning became only the second Scottish Cardinal since the reformation. His elevation was a fitting recognition of Scotland's importance to the Catholic church; of the church's importance to Scotland; and also of the stature and the achievements of Cardinal Winning himself.
Those achievements include Cardinal Winning's work to establish better relations with other faith groups –his 1975 address to the General Assembly was a landmark in the Catholic Church's relationship with the Church of Scotland.
And Cardinal Winning was also a tireless crusader for people who were poor, vulnerable or marginalised in our society.
In fact one of his last campaigns, shortly before he died, was to argue for better treatment of asylum seekers – a cause whose urgency and importance is undiminished today.
It's worth saying, and it is of course the case, that with all politicians, that Cardinal Winning did not agree with everything that I believe in or that any politician believes in, but there's absolutely no doubt whatsoever that as someone who has lived in Glasgow for all of my adult life, I always recognised, respected and appreciated the strength of his passion for social justice, and his advocacy of the Catholic faith.
I am therefore honoured to give a lecture in his memory, on the eve of what would have been his 93rd birthday.
One hugely important strand of Cardinal Winning's passion for social justice was his commitment to the principles of Catholic schooling. He was president of the Commission for Catholic Education from 1977 until his death in 2001.
And that of course takes me on to the main subject of this morning's remarks. The reason I have been asked to deliver this lecture in this particular year, is that we are currently celebrating the centenary of the 1918 Education Act.
2018 is also Scotland's year of young people – we are celebrating their talents and achievements in a programme that has to a large extent been designed by young people themselves. And so I hope that for young people in Catholic schools this will be a doubly special year.
The centenary of the 1918 Act is being marked throughout the year by a series of events – they include a national schools' mass in Falkirk Stadium later this month, a national parent gathering in August, and a major European conference in October.
The Scottish Government and the Bishops' Conference will also co-host a reception at Edinburgh Castle towards the end of the year, close to the centenary of the bill gaining Royal Assent.
The range and scale of these celebrations is entirely fitting. The 1918 Act helped to shape modern Scotland – significantly, and for the better.
For the population generally, it raised the school leaving age. It also established education boards, and tried to create better routes from elementary school to university.
For the Catholic community, its consequences were even more important. Between 1872 and 1918, the Roman Catholic community maintained its own schools at a time when parents were also, as ratepayers, contributing to the running of other schools.
That meant, almost inevitably, that Roman Catholic schools – which educated 1/7 of Scotland's schoolchildren – were significantly under-resourced. That in turn meant that Catholic children were deprived of educational opportunities that other children could take for granted.
That was wrong, that wasn't acceptable, and that changed with the Education Act.
Now there are two things, as a modern politician, which seem to me to be especially worth noting about the provisions on faith schools in the 1918 Act. The first is that they represent a very courageous and far sighted compromise.
The Catholic community entrusted the state with running Catholic schools. The state in turn promised that religious education and religious observance in Catholic schools would continue, and that the church would have a say in the selection of teachers.
This inevitably led to some arguments about whether the church was retaining too much or too little control over the schools. Robert Munro was the Secretary for Scotland at the time, and I was struck by something he said in a speech about the bill.
He said that "neither party considers that the arrangement goes so far as they would like. Might that not be the best tribute to its equity?" What is certainly true is that the result was a settlement – a partnership between Church and state - with very few parallels elsewhere. That might explain why it has lasted so well.
The second striking thing about the denominational provisions of the Education Act is that they were driven by a strong sense of national purpose. I mentioned earlier that Catholic schools covered 1/7 of the population. It was widely recognised, to quote Robert Munro again, that it was "not in the national interest that such a proportion of the population in Scotland should be left out…in their endeavour to raise the general level of education."
That basic lesson holds true to this day.
I have made closing the attainment gap between children in affluent areas, and children in poorer areas, the defining aim of my time in office.
I'm doing that – not simply because of the harm that inequality causes to individuals across the country – but also because inequality is bad for the country as a whole. All of us suffer when individuals, through no fault of their own, face barriers to fulfilling their potential. It means that they are less able to contribute their efforts, talents and ideas to wider society.
Professor Sir Tom Devine gave this lecture last year. He wrote in his history of modern Scotland about the social mobility that was made possible by better education for Catholics. He argued that the 1918 Act "enabled the growth of a large Catholic professional class, fully integrated into the mainstream of Scottish society."
And when you consider the immense contribution the Catholic community as a whole has made to Scotland in the last century, it seems to me to be inarguable that the settlement arrived at in 1918 is one which brought benefits – not just to the Catholic faith, but to all of us.
Many organisations have played a part in that success. I mentioned the St Andrew's Foundation earlier. It's also worth highlighting the role of the Bishops Conference and, in recent years, of the Scottish Catholic Education Service – which provides support to schools, parishes and dioceses. And the contribution of local authorities is of course essential. I want to put on record the Scottish Government's appreciation for the part played by all of them.
However the key reason for the success of Catholic schools is the expertise, passion and commitment of teachers, headteachers and teaching assistants in schools throughout the country. I am delighted that some of them are in the audience today, and I want to thank all of you for your efforts.
It's because of you, your colleagues and your predecessors, that this year's centenary commemorations are – without any shadow of a doubt – a celebration. We are celebrating a national success story. The partnership between church and state which began in 1918 hasn't just endured, it has prospered. And it has done so in a way which has benefited all of our country.
It follows from all of that, that my main message in this morning's lecture is actually a very simple one. The Scottish Government is an unequivocal supporter of Catholic schools. We value the contribution that Catholic schools make to modern Scotland. We want that contribution to continue in the years ahead.
And so we will work with local authorities, the Catholic Church, and organisations such as the St Andrew's Foundation and the Scottish Catholic Education Service, to ensure that Catholic schools continue to flourish.
In fact, if you look at Catholic education today, I think it's striking how closely the ethos of faith schools matches some of the key developments in Scottish society and Scottish education in recent years.
One of the key principles behind Curriculum for Excellence is that it provides children and young people with a rounded education. We don't simply want young people to be successful learners – although we undoubtedly do – we also want them to be confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. We want them to make a positive contribution to their community and to the wider world.
Catholic schools encourage that. They aren't unique in promoting those values – all schools in Scotland play a full part – but they do have a very important role to play.
That's maybe especially significant given the social changes Scotland has seen in recent decades. We have become a truly multicultural society. The diversity of modern Scotland is now one of our great strengths. And Catholic schools, because of the ethos they encourage, are an important and very welcome part of that diversity.
I see that almost every day. I am proud to represent a constituency, Glasgow Southside, which includes many excellent Catholic schools – including a number of primaries and a secondary, Holyrood, which is one of the largest anywhere in Europe.
One of the many other wonderful things about Glasgow Southside is that it is probably the most diverse parliamentary constituency anywhere in Scotland. That's reflected in the intakes of the Catholic schools – for example if you visit primaries such as Holy Cross or St Bride's you will hear upwards of thirty different languages being spoken. And in St Albert's School in Pollockshields, one of the best schools I've ever had the privilege of visiting, the pupil population is predominantly Muslim.
That exemplifies a wider point. Educating people in a way which is compatible with the Catholic faith and Catholic values doesn't isolate them – it goes hand in hand with encouraging and enabling them to contribute to their wider community.
I see that in other schools, too. When the Scottish Government expanded the First Minister's reading challenge into secondary schools last year, I visited St Andrew's and St Bride's school in East Kilbride. Again, they make a contribution –not just to their local community but to the wider world. For example they have a partnership with Damu Primary School in Malawi.
This sense of social purpose is showcased by the Caritas Awards - which were established by the Scottish Catholic Education Service following Pope Benedict's visit to Scotland in 2010.
The 2018 awards ceremony takes place next Thursday. It will celebrate more than 1000 young people who, after reflecting on their faith, have engaged in activities – for example volunteering - which benefit wider society. And they demonstrate an important truth. Catholic schools, like all good schools, don't just educate people to be good learners; they encourage them to be good citizens.
It's maybe worth adding that in doing that, Catholic schools – like all schools – adapt to the times.
That includes ensuring that all children –regardless of gender, race, faith, disability or sexual orientation – are brought up in a welcoming environment, without any fear of discrimination or bullying.
The Scottish Catholic Education Service is a valued member of the Scottish Government's LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group.
And this term, the Education Service – together with the Catholic Head Teachers' Associations for primary and secondary schools - has established a working group to develop learning and teaching resources that focus on prejudice-based bullying.
One consequence of that is that the Service will, from the start of next term, offer resources that focus on LGBTI matters at every stage of a child's time in school.
It's worth being clear here that in tackling prejudice-based bullying, the fundamental principles involved– equality, compassion and respect – are universal and enduring. All schools need to apply them to create a truly inclusive environment for all pupils.
So I warmly welcome the measures Catholic schools and the Catholic Education Service have adopted so far. They are necessary and positive steps towards ensuring that schools create a culture of respect and dignity for all their students.
Having spoken briefly about Curriculum for Excellence, I also want to talk briefly about the importance of the education reforms we are planning and implementing at present.
These changes, based as they are on the principles of excellence and equity, will be good for all schools in Scotland. As a result, I believe that they will also further improve our Catholic schools.
For example, Catholic schools are among the beneficiaries of the funding we have allocated to closing the attainment gap.
In addition, I know that the Scottish Catholic Education Service has welcomed many of our reforms and many of the proposals for our Education Bill.
That Bill will give more power to headteachers. Our intention is to ensure that they are free to meet the distinctive needs of their own school community. That applies to them as leaders of learning and teaching and also, in Catholic schools, as leaders of their faith community.
The Education Service has also welcomed the clear statement in our consultation paper that parents are the main educators of their children. In fact, the partnership between school and family that the Scottish Government is seeking to encourage, has been central to the ethos of Catholic schools for generations.
Our reforms seek to strengthen that partnership, and to ensure that all parents feel able to contribute to the life and ethos of their children's school. Again, that will be good for all schools in Scotland, and it should certainly benefit Catholic schools. It's further evidence that the position of Catholic schools in Scotland – which is already strong - is likely to strengthen further in the years ahead.
So for all of these reasons, I see the future for Catholic education in Scotland as a very bright one. However I am aware that the sector does face some real challenges. Arguably the most important relates to teacher recruitment.
At the moment, teachers who want to work in Catholic schools should gain the Catholic Teaching Certificate. The course which leads to the certificate equips teachers for integrating professional, personal and religious values.
In recent years, local authorities have had increasing difficulty in recruiting teachers who have that certificate. They estimate that towards the beginning of the current school year, there were 150 teacher vacancies in Catholic primary and secondary schools. It is likely that the real number was even bigger.
So over the last two years, we have worked with the university here in Glasgow to address this problem.
Last year, a grant of £28,000 enabled Glasgow's Catholic Teacher Education course to be extended to students at Edinburgh and Strathclyde Universities.
Due to the success of that programme, I am delighted to confirm that in the next year we will increase our grant by a further £100,000. This will enable the course to be extended to Aberdeen. And it will further increase the number of teachers who undergo Catholic Teacher Education.
Last year, the total was 276 – 93 of whom were funded by the Scottish government. This year, it is 322, all of whom will be funded by the Scottish government.
This is an area where relatively small sums of money can make a really meaningful difference. By extending Catholic Teacher Training throughout the country, we will enable more student teachers in more locations to benefit from the excellent work which is led here at Glasgow. And we can help Catholic schools across Scotland to continue to find the passionate and dedicated teachers they need.
It's one further way in which we can live up to the legacy of the 1918 Act – and ensure that a thriving Catholic schools sector brings benefits, not just to the Catholic community, but to the whole of Scotland.
And it's also, of course, a further way of recognising the legacy of Cardinal Winning. When he died in 2001, the Catholic Education Commission went so far as to say that "No one in the history of Catholic education has made a greater contribution".
Cardinal Winning's lifelong passion for education was of course in keeping with his sense of the church's mission.
At the beginning of my remarks this morning, I quoted from Pope John Paul II's address in Bellahouston Park in 1982.
I want to end by quoting from the mass for young people that the Pope held the day before - at Murrayfield Stadium. He referred then to Scotland's young people as "the pride of your beloved country and the promise of its bright future".
It's a sentiment which seems especially appropriate now, in Scotland's year of young people.
As we celebrate the promise and potential of our young people, one of the things we should acknowledge and appreciate is the strength and vigour of the Catholic schools sector. 100 years on from the Education Act, you are an important and valued part of Scottish life.
So it is absolutely right that we mark the centenary of that Act. As we do so, we should celebrate the progress the legislation enabled. We should appreciate the contribution Catholic education makes to modern Scotland. And we should endeavour to work even harder to raise standards in Catholic schools and all schools.
If we do that, we can ensure that schools continue to encourage good learners and good citizens. And we can ensure that 2018 is a truly special year for children and young people – for the Catholic community, and for all of Scotland.
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