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Headmaster’s Blog

Newman’s Legacy For The Oratory Prep School

26th October 2021

Just over two years ago, in October 2019, I was lucky enough to travel with our School to Rome to be part of the celebrations and Canonisation Mass for our Founder, St John Henry Newman. Prince Charles wrote an article in the Times that weekend celebrating the life of Newman, praising him for his moral courage and example and lauding him for acumen and his remarkable theology.

Prince Charles also referred to Newman’s role as an educator, remembering his remarkable creation of a Catholic University in Ireland and his founding of the Oratory School. It is through Newman’s legacy and insights on education that we, now as the Oratory Prep School, have developed the Newman Programme reflecting this in three key areas: strong reasoning skills and an understanding of how ideas connect across subjects, a recognition that personal growth and development should be encouraged and celebrated in school and also activities, learning opportunities and challenges that help pupils develop moral  awareness, integrity and a strong sense of service to others.

Newman’s ideas are highly significant and relevant to the debate today about the curriculum, what constitutes valuable learning, and what the purpose of a school is. Newman believed in the value of an education that allowed students to make connections across subjects and disciplines. Knowledge should not be atomised but should be viewed more holistically to allow a deeper understanding of the world. 

Newman believed passionately that Catholics should both understand the world and have the reasoning skills to defend their own beliefs and to judge between truth and falsehood. At the OPS today we want our children to develop similar reasoning skills, being fully aware of the relevance of their education for this and helping them in their future lives. He provided us with guidance on both the value and importance of knowledge, but also the value of fostering good skills alongside that. 

It was Newman’s own example that we have drawn on most strongly. There were two moments in his life that provide us with a key to understanding what a good education should be about. The first was the courage and strength of character that he showed when he left his friends and his life in Oxford to become a Roman Catholic. This was part of his own personal development and growth towards holiness. That he was prepared to accept personal suffering and hardship as part of this development reminds us of the importance of courage, moral integrity and resilience. Taking risks and accepting challenges and hardship as part of their personal development is a lesson we want our pupils to learn.

It was Newman’s willingness as a Catholic to champion individual conscience and to stand up to the idea that the teaching of the Church must be followed in all circumstances that is of most value to us today. Newman believed that as individuals we have a duty to develop and nurture our own sense of right and wrong, guided by the Church but also by God’s voice within us, and, as a school we want our pupils to develop this, and also to be prepared to stand up for what they believe is right despite opposition.