Catholic schools are open to all and increasingly the choice of other world faith groups, Bishop Donal McKeown has claimed.
“I think we are keen to ensure that our schools are open to everybody,” he said. “In south Belfast, the Catholic schools, which are explicitly Catholic, openly Catholic, are the ones that are preferred by Muslims and by ones of other world faiths.”
Bishop McKeown was responding to suggestions that faith schools were less successful than mixed ones at reducing sectarianism, racism and homophobia. His comments came in an interview broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster yesterday morning.
Joint research carried out by Oxford and Queen’s universities found that pupils in “super-mixed” schools – those with more than 10 per cent of the ‘other’ community – and formally integrated schools are consistently more positive on a range of variables including: friendships formed; the ability to empathise with others not from their own group, and more positive attitudes towards the other group.
“I think it was 2001 that the northern bishops brought out a commitment to make Catholic schools open for people from all faiths and backgrounds. I know from St Malachy’s College in a difficult area in north Belfast, where a school is situated will very often make it difficult.
“Certainly there are parts of east Belfast or west Belfast where there’s no way you’re ever going to get a mixed [school] population, but where teachers in all sectors do wonderful work to ensure that the pupils coming out were not sectarian.”
Bishop McKeown said academic selection needed to be challenged as well as religious differences, and added: “The big gap that people are not talking about is the gap between those in the grammar school sector and those who were dumped, as is perceived, in the non-selective sector. I think unless we actually engage with that really divisive influence, as well as this one, then I think we are jousting at something that isn’t the core problem.”