By R. F. CUNNINGHAM (Secretary of the Catholic Education Council)
• Forty per cent rise in number of children in past ten years
• With £20m. spent, even greater expenditure lies ahead
• Where else in national life is the 1939 figure still taken?
• Low Week Conference will study breakneck expansion
CATHOLIC education in this country is passing through a period of revo lutionary change. Numbers in Catholic schools have risen by about forty per cent in the last ten years. Even so the great increase in the child population means that the demand for schools continues to grow. Moreover, at the same time as the great tide of progress in education started by the 1944 Act is helping the work of Catholic schools, social changes throw up new difficulties in their way. Between 1950 and 1975, according to the estimates made by the Newman Demographic Survey, the number of Catholic children of compulsory school age will double, from about 650,000 to about 1,300,000. But not all of them were in Catholic schools in 1950, so there is a twofold task to complete the unfinished business and to provide for the great rise in numbers in the years that follow.
IN 1950, there were about 395,000 children in Catholic maintained schools, in addition to many in independent and other schools; the figure now stands at over 560,000 for maintained schools and at about 670.000 overall. Furthermore, the problem is complicated and increased by the movement of population, which is evident on every side — new towns, new housing estates, cities overflowing their old limits — and is creating a demand for churches and schools in areas where there were previously only handfuls of Catholics.
NOR is this the end of the story. There will be a big bill, most of which is still to come, for the rebuilding or modernising of old schools; there is also the heavy cost of new secondary modern schools to take children from the senior departments of the old all-age or elementary schools. Up to the end of 1957, dioceses had spent over £14,000,000 from their own resources on schools since the war. Since then the figure has mounted rapidly and must now stand at over £20,000,000. Much greater expenditure will lie ahead to carry out all the building that is needed. and despite Government grants, a very high proportion of this will fall on the Church. For though it is true that when a Government grant is available it is at the rate of seventy-five per cent, the rub is that it is only available for certain schools.
The basic principle of the 1944 Act is that the grant is available towards the REBUILDING, or IMPROVEMENT or REORGANISATION or REDEPLOYMENT of the amount of voluntary school provision existing at the time the Act came in force (1945) but NOT towards its EXTENSION.
The sharp edges of the principle are sometimes blurred in practice, but its essentials survive. The result is that new schools to provide for increased numbers have to be paid for one hundred per cent by Catholics.
The Act conceals a crude form of geographical discrimination. A diocese' a or parish's entitlement to a grant depends in effect on its number of schools in 1945, or to be more exact in 1939. since no schoolbuilding took place during the war. Since then prodigious social changes have occurred and the population as a whole has both grown and proved very mobile. Yet entitlement to grant is still pegged to the 1939 position.
Where else in the national life is the 1939 situation regarded as a legitimate basis for deciding the future?
BUT it would be a mistake to see the present situation of Catholic education simply in terms of the financial burdens nor is it shortage of money that is the only obstacle to the spread of Catholic schools. One danger deserves special cornment. Certain areas, where the Catholic population is or will be increasing rapidly, are by now well provided with schools, though not with Catholic schools.
Proposals for Catholic schools may be resisted on the ground that there are enough schools already, and it may be true that there are enough school buildings. Catholics will then face the task of persuading local authorities to sell schools which are in fact surplus to the local authority's requirements for non-Catholic children. Otherwise the road to further Catholic schools may be blocked.
Schools require three basic elements. of which buildings are one. The second is pupils — they will be there in abundance. The third is teachers. The number of teachers in Catholic schools has shot up since the war, and in maintained schools the total went from about 13,000 in 1950 to 18,750 by 1960. If we add teachers in other schools, the total in 1960 was about 25,000. But it will need to be very much higher by 1970, and it has been estimated that maintained schools alone will require 30,000.
The training colleges for teachers are being expanded to double their output whilst the expansion of the universities will increase graduate numbers. The sources of supply are there, but what will be needed is a continuing flow of well-qualified and dedicated candidates for teaching.
BUT an increase in size is not the only feature of the present great transformation in the Catholic educational system. The quality of opportunity open to Catholic children is rising alongside that of the nation as a whole; grammar schools, and their VI forms, are expanding, while for other children the ‘reation of secondary modern schools is holding out prospects of a better education. But with these new opportunities and challenges there go difficulties. The secondary modern school represents a novel form" of education, the potentialities of which have not been fully explored. Moreover, for Catholics it presents a special problem. The traditional Catholic elementary school was largely a parish school, but the new modern schools are of necessity almost all interparochial, and the old link of parish and school is more difficult to maintain though in some areas the appointment of chaplains has helped to bridge the gap.
In addition, the children in Catholic schools, particularly the secondary schools, are not immune from the new social pressures
which affect the young and alter the background to their education. As a consequence the schools face a great task in forging an effective Catholic education in a new field against a changing social environment, at the same time as they are having to absorb the effects of an expansion which at times is of breckneck pace.
ONE result of the upsurge in the child population is that the numbers in non-Catholic schools may increase even while the numbers in Catholic schools are going up. The social atmosphere of today makes this matter more grave, and it is shortly to be among the subjects considered at a catechetical conference organised by the Catholic Education Council at St. Mary's College. Strawberry Hill, in Low Week. One things seems clear in advance of this conference. namely that the religious instruction of these children will call for the services of great companies of lay catechists. This is only one aspect of a fact perhaps not always sufficiently appreciated — that the success of the whole effort in the education of the young will in a time of farreaching changes, make heavier calls than ever before on the work of the whole Catholic community.