by Peter Stanford
EDUCATION chiefs in Liverpool were this week presented with plans to reor&anise the city's Catholic seconcTiry schools with the closure of one and the amalgamation of four others.
After a two year study Liverpool archiocese's schools' commission has recommended to the council that the current 15 Catholic secondary schools be reduced to 12. A decision about sixth form provision has been postponed. If the council does not reject the scheme, a six month consultation period will now ensue for parents and staff to put their objections.
St Mary's High School, Sefton Park, featured in the Catholic Herald earlier this month on account of its
commitment to dealing with the racial and social tensions of its inner city catchment area, is one of those affected. The archdiocesan plan proposes its amalgamation with the nearby Nugent High School bringing an all-female college together with an all-male one to form a single large co-educational centre.
Headteacher at St Mary's, Sr Mary Gabriel FCJ, said that she was disappointed with the plan. She felt that single-sex education was much valued by local parents who chose her school and that its abandonment would be much regretted. With the amalgamation they would not have access to a Catholic all-girls environment in the inner city area. The nearest alternative would involve a bus trip to St Julie's High School in outlying
St Mary's itself is the result of a major reorganisation of Catholic schools in 1983 which saw numbers reduced from 43 to 15. It had taken time to build up staff morale and the school's cohesion, the headteacher pointed out, and the plan meant that a new uncertainty had now descended on St Mary's.
Leading article, page 4 The school already shares sixth form facilities with Nugent, but the archdiocesan plan would see the new coeducational school established on St Mary's twin sites in the Sefton Park area of Liverpool, and the Nugent buildings closed.
Director of the archdiocesan education commission Robert Newman defended the proposed reorganisation. The arrangements made during the last shake-up of Catholic secondary provision in the city had been optimistic, he said. Families were still moving out of the centre of Liverpool and surplus capacity existed in several schools.
In order to make financially viable units, it was essential that they should have five forms of entry — or 150 new pupils each year — and St Mary's simply didn 't attract those sort of numbers as a single-sex establishment, he pointed out. It was a choice between a mixed Catholic school or no Catholic school at all in the area, he said.
Sr Mary Gabriel said that she expected parents and staff to put up a fight for the single-sex status of St Mary's. The role of her order — the Faithful Companions of Jesus — within the school had yet to be discussed, she added, but the order did run a mixed school in Middlesbrough.
Other schools affected by the plans include Pope John Paul in Speke and St John Almond which it is proposed will be amalgamated to offer Catholic education for the south end of the city, and St Brigid's High School which because of the reduction to only one form of entry — 30 pupils — in recent years, it is planned to close.
The question of Catholic sixth form provision for Liverpool was also addressed in the archdiocese's two year study. However, Mr Newman said no final decision had been reached. The question of limiting secondary schools to 11-16 provision and then setting up a central Catholic sixth form college for 16 to 19 year olds had been raised, he said. Although there had been a very successful experiment with just such an idea in nearby St Helen's, also part of Liverpool archdiocese, the plan had not received widespread approval from the city's schools.
For the time being provision in 11-18 schools was to be continued, although the schools' commission was keen to improve links and sharing arrangements in this area between the various colleges.
If the changes win the city council's approval they will be introduced in 1992.