Welcome Back Message6th September 2018
A very warm welcome back to the new school year 2018/19. Congratulations to all our many young people who did well in their examinations, achieving outcomes that will help them move on to the next stage of their life, education, employment or training. I am sure that they would want to join with me in thanking all the teachers and their assistants whose commitment and dedication has helped prepare them for the next steps.
This is, of course, the first newsletter from the Education Commission since I took up my appointment as Director of Education on 30th July 2018. It is a great privilege and honour to be appointed to this role. I pray that I will live up to the expectations and trust placed in me by the Archbishop and trustees of the Archdiocese.
My colleagues in the Commission will recommence next week, their provision of timely reminders and news items through this newsletter. The purposes of this edition are to thank the many of you who have extended a warm welcome to me already, to set out some short-term opportunities to meet more of you formally and to make some announcements about longer term planning.
I am very grateful for the generous and enthusiastic messages of support received since my appointment was announced. Colleagues have been similarly welcoming during the visits made to a few schools over the last four weeks. Members of staff at the Commission, and in the Finance Office, are to be commended for the patient way in which they have inducted me to life in the Archdiocese and enabled me to get up and running relatively quickly. I have made use of some time to meet partners in the Catholic Education Service and Dioceses of Westminster and Brentwood, as well as Christine Gilbert who wrote the Gilbert Review of the Commission. Each of these encounters has added to my thinking about how I lead the strategic development of the Commission, and our services to the schools in Archdiocese, over the next few years.
By now you will have received an invitation to the Mass in the Cathedral (11th September 2018 at 14:00) to celebrate the beginning of the new school year. The liturgy will provide an opportunity, for those of us commissioned by the Archbishop to carry out his educational mission, to make or renew our commitment. I hope to meet you informally during the afternoon tea reception in Amigo Hall. Please do approach me and say hello.
Headteachers, please also keep the afternoon of 4th October 2018 free. We will very shortly be sending out invitations to all of you to come and meet me properly in a mini-conference lasting two hours from 14:00. Archbishop Peter will introduce the mini-conference. I am expecting to share the initial outputs of my time at the Commission. I also intend to give you an opportunity to discuss the findings of the Gilbert Review and to gather your views on how the Commission can best serve you and your schools in the future. The latter part of the afternoon will be conducted in cross-phase discussion groups. Please respond to the formal invitation as quickly as possible so that we can make the necessary arrangements.
Please also keep the 21st and 22nd March 2019 free and put a note in your diaries that these are the dates for the postponed headteachers conference. We may well revert to an autumn conference timing, but for this year, we need to plan a conference that takes into account meaningful reflections on the Gilbert Review and subsequent stakeholder contributions. The Commission also needs time to consider fully the findings of the Martin Review of the denominational inspection process in Southwark. Again, we will use the conference as a timely opportunity to share with colleagues any changes we are considering as a result. We are mindful of the need to align our inspection policy and practice with the emerging national framework for denominational schools and any revised procedures. Holding the conference in the spring will allow both sufficient time to present coherent outputs from these processes and for schools to make any adjustments in time for the new school year.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the team that kept the Commission running during the ‘interim’ period. Our thanks are due to Jane Overbury, Tom Gibson and Grainne Grabowski who supported Stephen and colleagues admirably. I would also like to thank publicly Oona Stannard for her extensive contribution to the Archdiocese’s educational work over a much longer period. Oona will continue to work on specific projects for the Archdiocese as we develop the new strategic plan, and an adjusted structure, to help us achieve a renewed set of objectives.
I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible on 11th September at the Welcome Mass and to working with you over the coming months and years.
Loving God, bless all those who work and learn in our schools as they begin a new school year. Help all who strive to build your Kingdom through education to be witnesses to your Gospel and to enable young people to grow in truth, justice and compassion.
Dr Simon Hughes