The call for abolition of fee-paying schools should come from the Church itself, argues Fr John Mannion, a Sacred Heart Missionary from Liverpool.
IF THE Catholic Church in this country were committed to genuine reform in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, then the resolution to abolish Private schools should have come not from the Labour Party Conference in 1981 but from the Catholic church in this country after the Council ended in 1965.
The sad fact is that the Catholic Church in this country is deeply enmeshed in the upper echelons of the socio-political organisation and this represents the single most important source of its impoverishment in terms of its ability to bear concrete witness to Christian values in our society.
Its role in education is a major component of this malaise.
Last Summer the National Pastoral Congress met in Liverpool to take stock of the Church in the years since Vatican Two. One section of the Congress was devoted to the theme of "Christian Education and Formation" and it duly produced a report.
In it, the Congress confined itself to a set of generalisations and recommendations for the future.
Sadly, it failed to assess critically what was accepted as Catholic education. There is no evidence that it looked for data on the abundance and distribution of schools, teachers and pupils in the different types of institution in this country nor did it attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of such institutions.
Without such information it is difficult to see how it could make any useful contribution to the evaluation of the educational role of the Church.
Models of the Church: The bishops responded to the Congress in a document called
The Easter People'', some excerpts of which are relevant to the present topic. In discussing the role of the Church in and for the World. the bishops refer to our faith as "rooted in a mystery,. the mystery of God. of Christ and of his Church".
Fifteen years earlier, the bishops of the Church gave a more Sacramental description of the Church in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gemium. The relevant passage runs as follows: "fly her relationship with Christ. the Church is a kind of sacrament or sign of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind. She is also an instrument for the achievement of such union and unity-.
By analogy with the Seven Sacraments, the bishops claim that there is something external and visible which can be recognised. This constitutes the "sign" component.
In addition. there is an effect which is brought about which is the union of men with God and with each other, The two are inextricably linked — there can be no real deep union with God while men are deliberately at odds with their fellow men.
But the sign and effect are not like two railway lines running forever parallel and never in contact.
On the contrary. there is a reciprocal relationship between sign and effect. The authenticity of the sign is the precondition of the effect and equally, the effect, a deep and sincere union of minds and hearts with each other and with God, is the precondition of the reality being tangible and
There are other aspects of the Church's teaching relevant to the present discussion which need restating: 0 It has always been the Church's teaching that wealth in excess of what is necessary to provide the minimal necessities consistent with human dignity is not a right but a privilege.
❑ Conversely "every man of whatever race. condition, and age endowed with the dignity of a person, has an inalienable right to an education corresponding to his proper destiny". (Vatican Two Declaration on Education).
Education: The ending of the Second Vatican Council coincided with the issue of Circular 10/65 in which the Government sought to introduce Comprehensive education in this country.
The movement grew out of a steady accumulation of evidence over the years that educational performance depended more on social class background than on native ability.
Since a large proportion of the Catholics in England and Wales were from the working classes in the cities, one might have expected the support and cooperation of the Catholic Church. Instead. the movement was received with scepticism and suspicion both by the hierarchy and Catholic intellectuals.
Governments. both Labour and Conservative. have since the 1950's increased the amount of State aid for Catholic Voluntary Aided Schools to the point where at present. Government pays 85 per cent of the building cost while the local education authority pays the bulk of the running costs once they are functioning.
In these circumstances it might have been reasonable to expect the enthusiastic involvement of the religious orders and congregations in ensuring that these schools should he genuinely Catholic.
Sadly. the facts are otherwise. Very few Orders and' Congregations became totally involved.
Many made token gestures in terms of manpower while continuing to run private fee-paying school in direct competition with the Catholic maintained sector.
Worse still. some actually
opted out of local Catholic reorganisation to gc:i independent for the first time.
One doesn't need much reflection to realise that if two shops on the High Street sell the identical commodity, sooner or later one will become more successful, so forcing the other either to switch to a new range of commodities or go out of business.
Sadly, it is the same economic forces which operate when two systems of education are in direct competition for resources, teachers and pupils. This is the case with Catholic Voluntary Aided and Catholic Independent schools.
Consequences for education: Education, as Vatican Two asserted, is no longer something available as a strict right to all. Instead, it now becomes a market commodity to be bought for a price.
For the rich. there is real choice. They can avail of the Catholic Voluntary aided school or they can buy private education, To the less affluent, there is no choice. Since the intellectuals and commentators in our society generally come from the more affluent classes. the Catholic press abounds with howls of anguish about freedom of choice. but there is a corresponding lack of emphasis that such choice is the prerogative of the rich.
The same press is largely indifferent or positively silent about the rights of those who enjoy the dubious freedom of going without what they cannot afford.
Despite the phenomenon of present teacher unemployment. it is a fact that there was a chronic shortage of teachers in the Catholic Voluntary Aided sector over the past fifteen years, especially in inner cities.
Besides, it is still the case that it is very difficult to attract qualified specialist teachers in what are termed "problem areas'.
This again is a direct effect of the operation of market forces. Two different systems of Catholic education compete in the market for a limited pool of personnel.
Here the independent sector can offer the prospect of working with a relatively homogeneous elite, living in better surroundings. status as well as monetary reward. • These are among the factors which enable the private sector to siphon off the better qualified teachers thereby impoverishing the alternative system.
In an ideal world committed Catholic teachers would strive to make schools into living expressions of what a brotherhood in Christ ought to mean for Catholic children.
In the Catholic sector the facts are otherwise. While the hierarchy tries to provide Catholic schools. the proportion of non-Catholic teachers in Catholic secondary schools has steadily increased from 14 per cent in 1964 to 34 per cent in 1977.
By 1974, 45 per cent of all teachers recruited into the Catholic secondary maintained sector, were non-Catholic.
It has been claimed that this is due to a shortage of Catholics but figures for graduates from the Catholic Colleges indicate that there are, in fact, more than enough Catholic teachers.
For example, no serious attempt has ever been made to recruit Catholic students from the University Colleges of Education,
While Catholic students are being taught by non-Catholics in the Catholic aided schools, by a grim irony. one third of all students in the Catholic Independent schools are themselves non-Catholic.
In England and Wales, about 7.5 per cent of all children are in private schools. If the involvement of the Orders and Congregations in education were to parallel that distribution, one would expect to find 92.5 per cent of religious in the maintained sector with the remainder in the Independent schools.
In 1973, 55 per cent of all religious involved in education were in the private sector. This is still an improvement over 1967 when 60 per cent were in Independent schools.
One sometimes hears the argument that the Catholic Church must also cater for wealthy Catholics.
Let us follow through the logic of this argument. Catholics account for about 10 per cent of the population of England and Wales. If roughly 7,5 per cent of that population's children are in private schools, then the Church ought to provide one tenth of that figure. i.e. 0.75 per cent for wealthy Catholic parents. The fact of the matter is that by 1974, Catholic Religious Orders and Congregations provided 13.7 per cent of all private feepaying education in this country.
All the above figures were arrived at by comparing figures from the Catholic Education Council with those from the D.E.S. (Government figures). It is a fact of life and of human experience that religious involved in private education are not, in fact, serving Catholic families who cannot afford the fees.
Many lay Catholics who never read these documents. witness a proliferation of advertisements in teh Catholic press urging them to dedicate their lives to God in the service of the poor and needy. It is a cruel irony if. instead. they end up at the exclusive service of the rich.
Conclusion. The overall picture is one of massive overinvolvement with the rich and influential with a corresponding neglect of those for whom the Church claims a special care.
The picture in education is so gloomy that it radically undermines the credibility of the institutional Church in its claim to proclaim the Gospel.
If Catholic education is to be genuinely Catholic, the criterion for admission ought to be Baptism into a living, believing. sharing community. Instead, in private education, a secular instrument, money. replaces Baptism as the criterion thereby defining who gets in as well as who, by default, must stay out.
As such, it drives a wedge between the haves and the havenots in the Christian community. When the Church, through its Orders and Congregations does this, it instutionalises divisions while claiming to proclaim brotherhood and fraternity.
Its practice therefore flatly contradicts its preaching, This is why the claim was made at the outset that the Church. rather than the Labour Party ought to commit itself to phasing out supposedly Catholic independent fee-paying education.