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The Origins of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools

During his key-note address at the 100th Council meeting held in December 2005, the Most Reverend Patrick Walsh, Bishop of Down and Connor reflected on the origins of CCMS. The following is an extract from his address:

"As a father figure of CCMS I have been invited today to tell the story of CCMS on this historic day. It is a story which goes back to 1969 and the setting up of the Catholic Maintained Schools Commission and the Diocesan Committees in response to the 1968 Amendment to the 1947 Education Act and the establishment of management committees for all grant-aided schools.

The story of that Commission, a purely voluntary group could well be told by Monsignor McCaughan who, virtually single-handed guided that Commission for almost twenty years.

Then in 1977 onto the scene came Professor Alan Astin, Professor of Ancient History at Queens University, asked by the Government to 'take a completely new look at the way schools should be managed in Northern Ireland'. In its Report Professor Astin's Committee proposed – indeed in one sentence they used the word 'suggested' and it is of interest that it was not a formal recommendation – the Committee proposed the setting up of 'an upper tier of management for the Catholic Voluntary Maintained Sector'.

This proposal was seen both by the Trustees and by the Department of Education to have great merit and there were ongoing communications leading to a formal meeting on 3rd May 1985 between the Education Minister and representatives of the Maintained Schools Commission. That meeting proposed to the Bishops the setting up of a Working Group of Departmental Officials and Representatives of the Maintained Schools' Commission to report to the Minister and to the Bishops.

There was no delay in the setting up of this Working Group which held its first meeting on 23rd August 1985. Two further meetings were held before the end of the year and in between there was ongoing communication and informal meetings. The meetings were business-like but most amiable. There was a clear common sense of purpose. The Department recognised the rights of Bishops as Trustees and they wanted the approval of the Bishops at each stage of negotiations before proceeding to the next stage.

There were ongoing meetings of the Bishops who were taking the matter very seriously and the Bishop General of Dromore, Bishop Edward Daly of Derry and myself were meeting frequently and reporting back to the full meeting of the Northern Bishops.

It was very clear from the beginning that the Department of Education wanted the upper tier of management to have 'authority and responsibility' and so it would be a statutory body funded by the Department of Education. The Department proposed three Diocesan Committees, Derry with Clogher, Armagh with Dromore and Down and Connor, whereas the Bishops were very insistent that if the upper tier and the Diocesan Committees were to have teeth then had to be five Committees. Both sides wanted this new enterprise to work effectively and so the Department agreed to five diocesan Committees. It was also agreed that the upper tier would be called the Council for Catholic Education.

There were ongoing discussions though no formal meetings as I such all during 1986 and at the beginning of 1987. The fourth formal meeting was held on 5th March 1987 to agree the final set of proposals.

On 9th April 1987, the formal Report of the Working Group was sent to the Minister, now Brian Mawhinney and to Cardinal O'Fiaich. I will quote from the covering letter signed by Mr Martin and Monsignor McLarnon which was issued to the Cardinal:

'Our main recommendation is for the establishment by Statute of a single management body, the Catholic Education Council, supporting the five Diocesan Education Committees. The Council would appoint and employ all teachers in Catholic Maintained schools and would exercise certain other functions in policy formulation and negotiation for that sector.'

The Report was accepted both by the Minister and by the Northern Bishops and a formal meeting between Dr Mawhinney and the Northern Bishops was fixed for 29th May 1987 for the joint acceptance of the Report.

Before the meeting was finally arranged for Monday, 27th July at 11 am in Rathgael House, I received a phone call from Mr Martin that the Minister was having last minute serious worries about the title, Catholic Education Council. It wasn't clear what the particular worries were.

At the meeting Dr Mawhinney proposed the title 'Council for Catholic Maintained Schools' as he had reservations with the words 'Catholic Education'; not so much with the word 'Catholic' as with the words 'Catholic Education'. The Bishops accepted the proposed title. The formal announcements were made by the Minister and by the Bishops on 30th July and again, I will quote from the Minister's statement:

'The Council will have a number of specific functions in relation to Catholic Maintained Schools. These will include administering procedures for the appointment, promotion, dismissal and disciplining of teachers. It will centrally appoint and employ all teachers in Catholic maintained schools and be responsible for their deployment. It will oversee schools' management and coordinate planning and rationalisation within the maintained schools sector... There is an acknowledged need for the sector to be able to deliver a more coordinated progressive curriculum to all its schools. To do this the Council needs to be in a position effectively to manage the sector as well as to set educational standards within it.'

As legislation would be required for the establishment of a statutory body it had been agreed between the Bishops and the Department and now with the Minister that an Interim Council would be established and that its director would be Father Colm McCaughan.

The first meeting of the Interim Council for Catholic Maintained Schools was held in Holywood on 23rd February 1988. The members were welcomed by Bishop Cahal Daly, Bishop of Down and Connor, on behalf of the Northern Bishops. At that first meeting of the Council I was proposed as Chairman by Sean Doherty, seconded by Jim Kincaide and so began my long association with CCMS.

At this stage, as was both right and fitting, Father McCaughan had become Monsignor McCaughan, the Director of the Interim Council. At the third meeting of the Council Paddy McCavera was appointed Deputy Director, Maurice Moroney as Secretary and Administrative Officer and John Colgan, Kay McCaul and Annita Curry were appointed Education Officers for Primary Schools and Declan O'Kelly and Jim Clarke as Education Officers for Secondary Schools. It was interesting to note the very high number of candidates who were short-listed and interviewed for all these posts.

In all there were seventeen meetings of the Interim Council up to and including 8th March 1990. When the first meeting of the Statutory Council was held on 5th April 1990 Monsignor McCaughan, the Director, took the chair until I was elected Chairman, proposed by John McGarvey and seconded by Jimmy Smith.

So today, 1st December 2005, we hold the 100th meeting of the Statutory Council for Maintained Schools."

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