BY A STAFF REPORTER CATHOLIC parents In Birkenhead are considerlegal action over what they see as discrimination against their children over local allocations of grammar school places. They blame, in part, an agreement reached between the education authority and the Shrewsbury Diocesan Schools Commission, and the local problem raises general issues affecting the future of Catholic secondary education.
The parents' Education Rights Committee asserts that, by comparison with non-Catholic children, the percentage of Catholic pupils admitted to academic secondary education is low.
In other words, Catholic pupils who qualify for grammar schools but cannot get places at appropriate Catholic establishments, are not being sent to county grammar schools.
Between 1965 and 1968, 58 Catholic primary pupils moved on to places in non-Catholic grammar schools. Since then, only two have done so.
At present, many Catholic pupils qualified for grammar school education are being sent instead to the academic streams of St. Hugh's and the BI. Ed mund Campion Schools, neither of which is a grammar school, and whose records of 'O'-level passes do not compare with grammar school equivalents.
A statement from the Shrewsbury Diocesan Schools Commission says that it did in fact appeal against the decision of the Birkenhead Education Committee to allocate only 30 places at St. Anselm's when 40 places had been offered to them.
"The commission made a formal statement through the education committee on June 26 requesting that this allocation of places be reconsidered, and expressed sympathy with and support for the requests of the parents concerned.
"It is, however, the view of the commission that the allegations of religious discrimination are unjustified, Responsibility for admission to county schools rests with the local education authority and the commission cannot comment upon this."
A further statement will be read at all Masses in the area on Sunday to amplify the cornmission's earlier comment with a view to removing "any misapprehensions and misunderstandings which may have arisen."
Mr. Edwin Brooks, Labour M.P. for Bebington, presented the parents` case in a House of Commons debate last week. Only a third of the Catholic pupils qualified for grammar school education, he said. are in fact going on to such schools.
The immediate cause of trouble was the Birkenhead Education Authority's decision to accept only 30 of the 40 places offered by the Christian Brothers' school of St. Anselm. which is a grammar school.
INQUIRY REFUSED Miss Alice Bacon, joint Secretary of State for Education and Science, replied that pupils were not being excluded for religious reasons. She refused a departmental inquiry, but offered to take up individual cases if complaining parents presented them.
The Education Rights Committee is not satisfied with this, and criticises last year's agreement between the Shrewsbury Diocesan School Commission and the Birkenhead Education Authority which excluded Catholic children from the nondenominational county secondary schools.
Miss Bacon sees the solution in terms of plans for comprehensive education in the local ity. She told Mr. Brooks: "Under the scheme for reorganisation of Catholic secondary schools in Birkenhead, now being considered in the Ministry. the Authority's intention is that St. Hugh's and the BI. Edmund Campion Schools shall become comprehensive schools, and that they shall establish links to enable pupils to proceed to St. Anselm's at sixth form level."
One of the problems, in terms of national policy, is that, if pupils change horses in midstream from Catholic to nonCatholic education. school building programmes will be thrown into confusion.
A comment in the Liverpool Daily Post by Robin Oakley raises an even deeper issue. It points out that only 7 per cent of the country's secondary school population is now being educated at Catholic secondary schools. which prompts some critics to say that there is a case for doing away with them.
Mr. Oakley adds: "There will he more protests (by Catholics against ecclesiastical policy) as the Catholic population becomes steadily more disseminated, making denominational schools less economically feasible. and forcing them to draw on ever-widening catchment areas."