Making it work at St.Michael’s School

Mr. Robert Malliff, Deputy Headmaster, November 2020

When people ask the headmaster or a member of staff at St. Michael’s how the school remains Catholic in the face of increasing hostility from the world, they often seem disappointed by the reply. They seem to expect us to reveal a complicated or even magic formula that allows us to navigate the web of government guidance and equality legislation that appears to hamstring so many other institutions. But the answer is simple. Whilst trying to understand the legislation, we are not driven by it. Instead, we simply seek to be the best example of what we claim to be: an authentically Catholic school.

Unity of purpose

How do we do this? Essentially, it requires unity of purpose. A house divided cannot stand. Every organisation with a clear mission requires all involved to subscribe to that mission. It is well documented now that when JFK visited NASA in the early 1960s every member of staff from Director to Janitor was clear about their role: they were putting a man on the moon.

At St. Michael’s, every member of staff is clear about their role—and they are doing something far more important. They are working to educate children, not only for the world, but for heaven.

Our parents share this clear aim too. Consequently, St. Michael’s enjoys a unique situation where staff and parents work in tandem to raise children with a truly Catholic spirit.

Religious practice

So how does this Catholic spirit manifest itself? To be authentically Catholic, a school must start with religious practice: weekly school Mass, daily Rosary, weekly Benediction, weekly form time or assembly, prayers before lessons and keeping the feast days and fast days of the liturgical calendar. It is a joy and a privilege to be involved in the religious life of the school, and to live with the liturgical rhythm of the Church.

Equitable governance

A genuinely Catholic school will not overlook the importance of a fair bursary system based upon the ability to pay, allowing those that cannot pay the opportunity to benefit. Nor will it fail to address fair terms and conditions for staff to ensure people are recognised for what they do, even if many still hold to the concept of working at the school as a vocation. The right use of money and effective administration, to protect future generations of schooling, are clear Catholic duties too.

Catholic curriculum

We have worked hard to create a curriculum that is a balance of sciences and humanities, supported by excellent departmental leadership and pedagogy, and underpinned by Religious Knowledge. We have shaped the curriculum to ensure there are clear overlaps with the wider issues that legislation requires of us—internet safety, bullying, relationships, and so on—but which a Catholic school should naturally address anyway.

Weekly form time and assemblies are linked with historical and liturgical events; the academic curriculum and religious knowledge are aligned, so that as certain topics are studied in biology, they are comprehensively addressed within the context of Catholic teaching by our four resident priests. That wasn’t a typo or a trick of the light by the way: we have four resident priests.

Nor does the school shy away from addressing weighty issues such as homosexuality, abortion, contraception, and so on, but rather, they are approached at the right age and within the context of what the Church teaches about them. We take a clear approach; our boys will encounter all of these issues when they leave St. Michael’s, and whilst we protect them for as long as we can, from 14–15 years old, when they have the intellectual capacity, virtue and growing maturity to deal with these issues, they are given Catholic armoury for the next stage of their lives.

Statutory compliance

Ironically, this approach, which integrates Catholicism in all that we do, meets Ofsted guidance to prepare students for the wider world, and satisfies legislative requirements under the Equality Act 2010, because religion is considered to be a “protected characteristic”.

Devoted staff

Beyond the unity of purpose, religious practice, equitable governance and Catholic curriculum is the daily example within the classroom and boarding house that makes such an impression on our students (and visitors). They are able to see teachers and priests who genuinely care. We sanction pupils when they step out of line, either in conduct or academic progress, but sanctions are always approached with a view to correcting and supporting them to be their best. Voices are rarely raised in classrooms at St. Michael’s, but admittedly the patience of priests in the boarding house of a late evening after a long day is bordering on heroic.

The future

All of these elements explain how St. Michael’s is able, not just to navigate the legislation, but to thrive in spite of it. Ultimately, it is a clear unity of purpose to be Catholic that permeates all aspects of life at the school. We’re not perfect yet, but as secular authorities increasingly scramble in the dark, unclear about what should be done to remedy the social and moral chaos they have helped to create, it has been my earnest belief from my very first day at St. Michael’s School that our small example of faith and reason will shine ever brighter and clearer in the years ahead as a beacon for those beleaguered parents who desire a Catholic education for their children.

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