BY NOEL IIEGIIES
RUE to theft empirical traditions, the British political parties seem to have developed a double principle for handling the recurrent problem of financing Catholic schools. It is that nothing must be done to make things easy for Catholics; but something must always be done to prevent things becoming impossible.
That things are fast becoming impossible can be shown from the bankruptcy of some diocesan school funds. So it has become a matter of common gossip that a claim for financial relief is being prepared and will be presented to the government that takes office in the autumn.
Gossip again has it that the principal claim will be that the grant of 75 per cent now made for reorganised schools should also be made for new schools.
Such a claim must surely have a fair chance of success. Anything less could not stop things becoming impossible. Also. it is the sort of change that could be drafted into a short bill such as the House of Commons might dispose of in a quiet afternoon.
The happier relations that exist between the Christian communities is a third ground for hope of a sympathetic hearing. And, finally, it is difficult to see how the present grants formula which is tied to the schools that happened to exist a quarter of a century ago, can find a place in that modernised Britain which all the political parties arc promising as the main plank of their platforms.
All this is very encouraging. But the extension of grant to new schools, for all its simplicity, would kick away a corner stone from the 1944 religious settlement. and that in itself is likely to lead to a good deal of stocktaking on the place of denominational schools in a State education system.
There are other grounds for stocktaking. Educationally, the 1944 Act has passed into history; Crowther and Newsom are now the points of reference.
of the religious settlement, the administrative side was always inept. Linking aid to the denominational schools t h existed would have been a reasonable policy for a static society. But, it was pure nonsense when all the political parties were committed to ensuring that society would not he static.
Almost none of the religious provisions has worked in the way predicted. The Catholic burden was expected to he heavy but hearable. In fact. it has never been anything but crushing, while Catholics have raised sums that would have been considered unattainable in 1944.
The Anglicans were expected to allow most of their schools to become controlled. In fact a very substantial number have stayed voluntary. The Agreed Syllabus was thought to he a great step forward in making England Christian. in fact, a growing number of Anglicans and Free Churchmen are convinced that it will not do.
For others, then, besides ourselves, this is a time for taking stock and we may reasonably hope that, in the course of it, we shall not find ourselves in that hurniliating isolation which was our lot in 1944.
As a contribution to all this,' I should like to put forward two suggestions and to preface them by a disclaimer.
One or two recent letters in the CATI-101 IC HERALD have suggested that the time has come to abandon Catholic schools. It is a suggestion that appears whenever, as is now the case, the going is rough. I can see nothing to commend it. The case for Catholic schools rests on right and I have no sympathy for those who, whether through pusillanimity or a spurious realism, would see a right diluted to a privilege. We want more Catholic schools, not fewer.
My first suggestion is in respect of policy: that we should lose no opportunity of ending the dual system. It seems to me that, if we were to get 75 per cent grant all round, there would be a very real danger of entrenching the dual system. This would he wrong. We must, for the lime being, make it viable; we should beware of making it permanent.
That the dual system has no intrinsic merit does not, I think, require proof. That it has disadvantages is known from harsh experience. Six of them are substantial.
First, it hasn't brought home the bacon. There is no system under which MO per cent of Catholic children can hope to attend Catholic sohnols. But under the dual system even the target may he no more than 60 per cent. It is the low level of possible attainment rather than the high cost of reaching it that is causing despondency among Catholics. There should be no doubt about this: if we settle for 60 per cent, openly or tacitly. we are settling for privilege, not rights.
Secondly, the fairly low level of provision which seems inevitable under the dual system has unfortunate consequences for the children who can get into Catholic schools as well as for those who arc kept out. In other schools, the common objective is to bring the size of classes down. Unless we can make substantially more provision, classes in many Catholic schools will never fall below the maximum tolerated by the Ministry. There are the seeds here of an unpleasant conflict of loyalties.
Thirdly, the method of financing the dual system places Catholics at a tactical disadvantage and in an unfair light. £100 million is often mentioned as the rough sum that they still have to find. hat is fair enough. The burden for Catholics is severe and they are right to make complaint of it.
But the effect of constant cornplaint is to make others think that Catholics are demanding some special and costly privilege. This is not so. Catholics pay very little towards the total cost of education. It just happens that the sums that
they are required to find ale beyond their capacity to raise. But the Catholic contribution as a proportion of the old Ministry of Education vote was always slight; as a proportion of the vote of the new enlarged Ministry it is actually trivial.
For the State to pay as much as it does of the cost of Catholic education and to pretend that some substantial point of principle attaches to the remainder is both ludicrous and shabby.
Fourthly. our financial problems are made drastically worse by each educational advance, such as the raising of the school-leaving age to 16. It is an intolerable system of finance that causes Catholics to range themselves instinctively behind the present organisation of education and against every large and imaginative reform.
Fifthly, the strain that finding the cash for the dual system imposes on the Church is tragically clear, The "schools problem" drains our resources, wears away our energies, dulls imagination. And alt this at a time when the challenges facing the Church are enormous and alarmingly new. It is almost incredible that, with the universal Church in total ferment, the English Catholics should be stolidly pegging away running football pools to buy bricks and concrete. But it is true.
And, sixthly, though we have earned praise for the amounts we have collected, we stand condemned by many fellow-Christians for the methods used.
We Catholics are so accustomed to charges of bigotry that we tend to he rather smug about gambling: bete is one thing at which we can he as broadminded as any. It is a point of view. Others think differently. Football pools to many protestants are as contraceptives to most Catholics. I think our bingo and our pools escape the charge of being sinful, but not of being moronic. If we have nothing to plead guilty to, we have nothing to feel proud about.
These are six strong reasons why, in my view, we should not let an opportunity pass of testing whether we could not get the essential requirements for a Catholic education within the State system. Here, sonic reader will say : "Let's ask for the Scottish solution' and another, "It's not on".
These would he foolish reactions. It is not the British way to assume that. for any problem. there is a solution which must he taken or rejected. The national genius has always been for devising fresh formulae for specific difficulties. At some point the accommodation will be found. We need it, desperately, sooner rather than later.
My second suggestion is in respect of administration: that we should in fact have an administration.
At present, we lack a plausible administration. That is not to our discredit. We have been so busy buying and building that we have had little energy left for considering how to administer what we have built. But for two reasons this cannot go on.
First, there is no ecclesiastical area which matches the catchment area of a secondary school. The parish, which was a perfectly sound administrative unit for the all-age schools is too small for a secondary modern school and far too small for a grammar or a comprehensive school. The parish hecomes steadily less appropriate; nothing is taking its place.
The second reason is that we now have too many schools to administer in the present haphazard way.
And it really is haphazard, At the national level there is the Catholic Education Council with its tiny and highly expert secretariat and its large unwieldy Council membership. In practice. policy is made by such a small number of its members that the Council exists to transmit received policy rather than to formulate it.
At the level of the diocese there are the diocesan commissioners, all ecclesiastics. In certain dioceses the commissioners are the teal centres of power for it is they who receive and dispose of diocesan funds.
Al the local level there is the parish priest, the governors or managers of the schools. and the local branch of some lay organisation such as the Catholic Parents' and Electors' Association: all of whom may have their separate and qualitatively very different links with the diocesan commission.
But standing between the diocese and the parish (and this is particularly the case in large towns) there is often a priest who by reason of rank, force of personality, custom ol a combination of these factors is the unchallenged spokesman and negotiator in the locality. In practice, an enormous amount depends on the shrewdness and energy of these local "chieftains".
The most obvious characteristic of this sort of administration is that it lacks a rationale. But where. to find one? That, I think, is fairly clear. We should look to the arguments that have led us to insist on having Catholic schools and draw from them the inspiration for an administrative pattern. The result would be to place the control of schools in the hands of the laity. The role that parents now play in respect of Catholic schools is quite inconsistent with the basic proposition—parental right—on which those schools were founded.
I do not think the present pattern of control is at all defensible. It is had for the clergy for it imposes on them onerous administrative work from which they should he relieved.
It is bad for the laity, since they are not bearing their proper responsibility. if apathy about schools is spreading it is due, as much as anything, to the lack of any continuing and positive role for the laity.
I think also--if I can put it without appearing ungrateful that the system has not really been successful. Any administrative structure that is predominantly clerically stalled is hound to he overstretched because the clergy themselves are overstretched.
This occasionally leads to the use of administrative techniques, simply because they can be handled by an overstretched structure, even though they arc basic alliyhuensdoiuoncdes.
an education tax is one such. The efficiency of this
poll tax is more than a little bogus. 1 am sure that much more money could have been raised by local communities working for their own local school projects. If some of the richer and better equipped parishes had "adopted" some hopelessly poor ones this would have strengthened the sense of fraternity among Catholics.
But a more serious objection to the present system is that it is a handicap to the presentation of our case. Why should politiCians, or administrators, respond to a call for rights for Catholic parents if, at national and local level, it is the clergy and not the parents who conduct the negotiations?
Of course if demonstration is needed that the clergy have the backing of the laity, then the activists can he got into the streets in support of Catholic schools at the snap of episcopal fingers. But whoever else :may by impressed by the sight of activists taking to the streets it is not the politicians; for this is essentially a political manoevre.
That the laity must take over responsibility for schools is in my opinion incontestable. But if the reader of this article were to assume that the laity is itching for control and the clergy reluctant to yield it. he would he wrong. Though I don't doubt the laity will do its duty in the end, I suspect that it may have to he prodded into facing it. But this is only one facet of the relation between clergy and laity in Britain today.