A Little More Learning

Sophia Waugh, Evelyn’s grand daughter and Auberon’s daughter, writes this week in the Catholic Herald about the current state of Roman Catholic schools in the UK. The article opens with a brief review of the differing attitudes of various members of her family toward education of their children:

My father did not choose to send his four children to a Catholic school, or even a boarding school. While our cousins trotted off to Ampleforth or St Mary’s Ascot or Shaftesbury, I was sent to grammar school and my siblings were public school-educated. My father and one of his brothers went to Downside, the other went to Stonyhurst and his sisters went to St Mary’s Ascot (until one of them was expelled for turning the statues of saints to the wall and the others walked out with her in protest).

As a child, I did not think very deeply about his reasons; I suppose I was obscurely flattered, naively thinking that it meant he loved us more than his siblings loved my cousins. I knew that he was rebellious and hated his boarding school; my knowledge of boarding schools stemmed from my parents’ tales of misery and books by Angela Brazil and Enid Blyton. Then I read more advanced books such as Frost in May and Jane Eyre, and Helen Burns’s death put the kibosh on any lingering yearning to be sent away to school.

My children went to a Catholic primary school, chosen more for its educational qualities than for its religion, although I was delighted by the priest attached to the school, the regular Masses for children and parents, and the ethos that came with its religious base. Until, that is, I learned that a dinner lady insisted that the children ate in silence and when they did not, she punished them by making them pray. To be fair, she was shown the door when the head found out.

The remainder of the article is a discussion of the strides made by Roman Catholic schools in putting behind them the days of sex scandals and coverups. She also notes that monasteries have been separated from administration and teaching in adjacent schools and that a high percentage of the teaching staff and students are now non-Catholics. Despite its recent problems, Downside has filled its classes for the coming term. As befitting a Waugh, she concludes her article with a story:

This year, as last year, celebrations for school leavers have been much curtailed. The leaving balls are proms have in many cases had to be cancelled, causing angst among the young the length and breadth of the country.

This, from Harriet Langdale at Ampleforth, gives a lovely flavour of what a Catholic education meant to the leavers this year: “To give an indication of what Mass in the Abbey Church means to the pupils, all of last year, because of Covid, Mass was only in houses, and often outside which was wonderful. The leaving upper sixth made a special request that they be allowed to have Mass again in the Abbey Church before they left. They didn’t have a leavers’ ball and all the other usual leaving rites of passage, but the one thing they couldn’t bear to miss was Mass in the Abbey Church. This was their absolute highlight at the end of their term.”

It appears there is still an argument for a Catholic education – and it is coming from the students themselves.

Sophia writes the “School Days” column for The Oldie and teaches at a secondary school.

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