NZ education speaker rejects jibe at nuns as teachers

A keynote speaker at June’s New Zealand Catholic Education Convention has slammed Britain’s shadow education secretary for a jibe about nuns as teachers.

Sr Gemma Simmonds, CJ, told the Tablet that Labour’s Tristam Hunt had shown “breathtaking ignorance and bigotry”.

His jibe came on the BBC’s Question Time programme last month, when the topic under discussion was teacher qualifications.

Panellist Christina Odone praised the “real values” her teachers had instilled in her.

Mr Hunt interjected with the remark: “These were all nuns, weren’t they?”

His intervention was greeted with outrage, with even some members of his own party among those who criticised what they saw as a sneering attitude towards religious life.

Mr Hunt took to Twitter to attempt to clarify his remarks, saying he had “obviously meant no offence to nuns”.

Sr Gemma, who is a senior lecturer at Heythrop College in London, said many Catholic state schools in the United Kingdom are former convent schools.

These schools are consistently oversubscribed “because parents have confidence in the long tradition of highly-acclaimed, intellectually-broad and culturally-critical education that they provide”.

Sr Gemma, a Labour voter since the age of 18, said her education by nuns was “challenging, broad and enormous fun”.

“All my teachers were highly trained and totally dedicated.”

Sr Gemma is a trained teacher herself and has a doctorate in systematic theology from Cambridge.

She is vice-president of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain.

The UK’s Catholic Education Service pointed out that nuns were pioneers in the establishment of teacher training colleges.

Today they act as qualified teachers, school chaplains, governors and trustees throughout Catholic education.

In a subsequent interview, Mr Hunt refused six times to agree with a statement that nuns can be good teachers.

He kept avoiding a direct answer until eventually admitting: “I am sure there are brilliant teachers who are nuns who are doing a fantastic job.”

The 2015 New Zealand Catholic Education Convention runs from June10-12 in Wellington.

Its title is “Horizons of Hope”.


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