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Catholic education chief steps down

The Catholic Education Service of England and Wales (CESEW) has announced the resignation of its director and chief executive Oona Stannard.

Ms Stannard, who has been at CESEW for 12 years, has been on leave since November. Fr Marcus Stock, general secretary of the bishops’ conference, has filled in as acting director and will continue to do so until a successor has been found, the statement said.

Bishop Malcolm McMahon, chairman of the bishops’ Department for Education and Formation, thanked her on behalf of all the English and Welsh bishops.

Today’s statement paid tribute to her work, saying: “Ms Stannard has skilfully steered the CESEW through significant policy development and negotiations with governments. Together with her staff, she has brought transparency and a secure evidence base to Catholic education, developing, for example, the CESEW census, the website, research and publications and raising the public profile of Catholic education and the benefits that it provides to society.”

Ms Stannard said in a statement:

Few things have greater potential to change lives for the better than does education. It has therefore been a privilege to be an educationalist and to serve the Church in this capacity as Director and Chief Executive of CESEW, following my previous role as HMI. To have a fulfilling career which for the last 12 years has enabled me to work in two areas about which I feel passionate ie faith and education, has been a blessing.

I have given this much thought recently whilst unexpectedly on leave addressing serious health issues in my family. This time has enabled me to reflect on the changes in education at all levels over the years, the considerable achievements of CESEW, the strong position of Catholic education and what I seek for myself for the future. I have therefore decided that it is timely for me to withdraw from CESEW and to look to work more flexibly, on a broader canvas where I hope to still have opportunities to serve education with a religious character whether at university, school or FE levels but also to work beyond the faith sector again.

Nevertheless leaving will be a great wrench after many very demanding but happy years. I have been pleased to serve alongside others working in Catholic education and I have been inspired by their commitment. The sector is indeed fortunate to have so many dedicated people working on its behalf, not least the principals, teachers, lecturers, other staff and governors and, of paramount importance, diocesan officers without whom it is hard to envisage any system of Catholic education in England and Wales. There is also much expertise, experience and skill amongst the staff of CESEW and I count myself fortunate to have had such good colleagues.

I will leave with many memories not least those of the opportunities to work with the Bishops and their staff, of positive collaboration with members of other denominations and faiths, and of the excellent, constructive relationships built up with politicians, policy makers and their officers.

My greatest memory will be that of the Papal visit and the commencement of the Holy Father’s public engagements in England being at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham where the Big Assembly took place and where we shared in the joy of anticipating the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. I am happy to have been a small link in that chain and to have led CESEW for 12 years. I wish Catholic education and all who work in its service well for the future.