by Peter Stanford
THE Government's controversial plans to establish city technology colleges received a boost this week with news of the impending sale of a redundant Catholic secondary school in Hexham and Newcastle diocese to backers of the privatelysponsored institutions.
The decision of the parishes responsible for the former St John Fisher school at Lobley Hill in Gateshead to sell the buildings to the CTC trust have been attacked by the local education authority who are angry that four of their secondary schools have already been closed under reorganisation plans, and claim that a fifth may follow if the technology college opens its doors in the Gateshead area and takes pupils away from existing institutions.
However, John Hampson, director of the diocesan schools' commission, defended the parishes' responsible for the disused St John Fisher building. The modern school premises, designed for 700 pupils, were left empty after falling rolls and pressure to remove spare capacity led to reorganisation of Catholic secondary provision in the area, Mr Hampson said. The parishes, with the backing of the trustees, the diocese, then tried to sell the site. The offer from the CTC was the only one advanced, and as trustees the diocese recommended acceptance as a prudent financial course.
The Catholic Church's attitude to the establishment of CTCs has been a mixed one, with no clear guidelines from the bishops' conference. Recently Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool was accused by a senior Conservative educationalist of blocking the sale of four redundant schools in his area to the CTC trusts.
Westminster diocese schools' experts have expressed similar reservations. But Mr Hampson said that no complaints had come in from Catholic heads in Gateshead about the new CTC. If such schools were unnecessary they would fail to attract pupils, and if, by contrast, they took pupils away from Catholic schools, they would present a challenge to standards, he stressed.