By Richard Dowden Parents who send their children to Catholic Schools by public transport could be seriously affected by the government's proposed policy of letting local authorities decide where cuts should be made.
Mr Ernest Shields, the President of the Catholic Teacher's Federation said this week that several local authorities had already.indicated that cuts would be made in the part of the Education budget which provides for school transport. He added that parents in cities obviously wouldn't be so much affected by such cuts as parents in rural areas where children had to travel some distance to school.
The CTF is very concerned about the proposed policy which it feels goes against the Conservative Party's usual policy of parental choice. The General Secretary of the Federation is going to write to Mr Mark Carlisle the Secretary of State.
"In the light of the country's economic situation, the Government's policy of limiting public expenditure is understandable", said Mr Shields, "But delegating the power to make cuts to local authorities could have serious implications to many parents."
Catholic children are certainly more vulnerable than others because they tend to travel further to schools, sometimes as much as 25 miles, If the local authorities subsidise pupil travel over a three mile limit, parents who have to send their children by public transport in towns could still have to pay as much as £2 a week per child. If they stop all subsidies to pupils travelling more than three miles, Catholics in rural areas could be hard hit.
With regard to school closures because of the declining population and the cuts in public spending, there is not likely to be a Catholic lobby against the closure of Catholic schools in general. In fairness to ratepayers the Catholic Education Council is likely to accept that Catholic schools in urban areas will have to bear their fair share of the cuts and work with the local authorities in arranging which schools will close.
In the rural areas their approach may be different and there could be tough opposition to the closure of a Catholic school covering a wide area. For example in Grantham, where a 150 place school, Blessed Hugh More. built as a secondary modern school ten years ago, had difficulty integrating into the comprehensive system although it could have survived as a two form entry comprehensive. There is still a question mark over its future.
Most of its pupils come from the town of Grantham but in fact it serves an area of 200 square miles, being one of three Catholic secondary schools in Lincolnshire. At the moment it brings the pupils to school by a minibus paid for by the local authority but if the school travel subsidy for pupil travel over three miles is cut, the school could once again be in difficulties and many Catholic pupils would be unable to reach it.