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Walking with chaplains in schools and colleges in England & Wales

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The National Coordinator and the Executive Team


The organisation was without a National Coordinator from 2010 until 2014. The demands of chaplains’ individual ministries and the need for them to be visible in their own places of work together with the lack of financial support for this meant no one was available to take on this role. Initially Fr Gerry Ewing and Sr Barbara Brent as priest and religious respectively took on the role, as did Mrs Maggie Cascioli upon her retirement as a school chaplain.


In place of the National Coordinator and executive team the Leadership Team was formed as an interim measure to ensure that on a practical level ACCE continued to exist. During this time ACCE continued to try to meet the needs of chaplains in sharing resources and continued to organise an annual conference, provided CPD each Autumn and with Ampleforth Abbey offered an annual 24 hour retreat. (At this point the Diocesan Chaplaincy Coordinators agreed to organise their own annual conference, recognising that their role was one of support to ACCE and not vice-versa.) ACCE developed a website (currently offline) and uses other forms of social media to maintain connections with both members and non-members alike. Links were also re-established with CES. At Conference 2014, having retired from my chaplaincy post, I was able to stand for election as National Coordinator and was duly elected. This is an important role within the organisation, particularly in networking across many agencies in order to keep chaplaincy on the agenda in the face of competing demands within the education sector.


Current developments

One of the recent issues for ACCE has been to attempt to raise awareness of the organisation, in particular in an effort to obtain funding. In the 20+ years since its inception many of the Bishops, contemporaries of the late Bishop Ambrose, for example, are no longer with us. Similarly Head Teachers may not be aware of the organisation and the documents published so long ago. Indeed Catholic education has faced enormous changes in the interim and continues to do so. A recent gathering of Diocesan Chaplaincy Coordinators recognised this and has set up a working party with representation from both ACCE and CES with the aim of revisiting and revising the documentation, producing new guidelines which will be more easy for employers to use. In addition, its brief is to look at issues of concern for chaplains including appraisal, job development and pay scales.The existing framework in schools, designed for teaching staff, isn't normally appropriate for chaplains. Obviously these issues impact both on employment and retention of chaplains.


The organisation is increasingly aware of chaplains in the primary sector. This is clearly an area of growth although frequently chaplaincy in this instance is seen as part of normal teaching duties.


Within the secondary sector some developments have not been positive: in particular the growth of students in year 7 and upwards being recognised and named as ‘pupil chaplains’, some even commissioned by their Bishop. This has been a cause for concern amongst chaplains already in post and has given rise to doubts as to whether Head Teachers and Governors fully understand the role and purpose of a chaplain. Increasingly we have been made aware of the employment of young, inexperienced people into chaplaincy with little life experience.

ACCE is the only organisation for the 100+ chaplains within Catholic Education in England and Wales.


Diana Polisano

November 2015

ACCE: from 1993 to the present day


Background

ACCE was formed in 1993 and was developing at a crucial time for the Church and Catholic education in Britain. The role of the laity and lay ministry had been affirmed by ‘The Sign we Give’ and Christifideles Laici. Various models of collaborative ministry were being explored at a time when more and more demands were being made on fewer priests and when chaplaincy in schools would be transformed from a mainly clerical model to a lay one, with a full-time priest chaplain becoming a rarity. Chaplaincy: The Change and the Challenge  (CCC) was the first document to be produced which addressed these issues and also offered advice on the emerging but very practical issues of the appointment, training, terms and conditions and suchlike of the chaplain to the Catholic school. It followed a long period of consultation by the ACCE executive at the time and was pulled together largely through the work of Fr Gerry Ewing and gained the support of the Bishops’ Conference. For the first time, queries about chaplains’ job description, role, induction and other related issues could be met with a professional handbook. The launch of the document in the presence of Bishop John Rawsthorne was a time of real celebration and a sense of a necessary job done well.

In the time between CCC and the later Guide to the Employment of Lay Chaplains in Schools and Colleges, much of the work of ACCE was behind the scenes. The various executives continued to meet, to plan conferences and training weeks and to respond to the ever-changing needs of chaplaincy, including fulfilling engagements at diocesan and school level to participate in awareness raising and training, whether for Governing bodies or new chaplains. An area of ongoing concern was the training needs of chaplains. Many of these were addressed through workshops and keynote speakers at conferences. As school budgets were stretched, a 5-day training course was simply too expensive for many to attend. Issues such as professional supervision for the full-time chaplain were raised, as was the need for ongoing spiritual direction. ACCE developed a 24-hour CPD (Continuing Professional Development) programme for new chaplains’ to try to meet this need. For a time an accredited Chaplaincy course ran at Ushaw (involving ACCE both in planning and delivery) and there are now some MA courses available.

The Guide to the Employment of Lay Chaplains in Schools and Colleges published by CES came as a response to requests for an updated and further developed set of guidelines intended primarily for dioceses and employers across the education sector. This involved a huge amount of consultation between ACCE and CES and much of the content was supplied by ACCE.


ACCE helped develop the role of Diocesan coordinators and for many years organised their annual conference. ACCE also led to the formation of ACVIC (Association of Catholic 6th form Colleges) in 2003 as all its founders and facilitators were active ACCE members who saw the need for a similar forum for the Catholic 6th Form College sector.

Much of this activity was carried out with the support and encouragement of Bishop Ambrose Griffiths, still fondly remembered by ACCE with much gratitude. In recent years we have also received support from Nottingham Diocese and in Julie Sweeney we are fortunate to have a quick and effective communicator and administrator.