By a Staff Reporter Support for grammar and direct-grant schools, a "Parents' Charter" and a national conference on religious instruction in State schools are promised by Mr Norman St John-Stevas, MP, Conservative spokesman on education.
He has outlined his party's policy for the coming election in a booklet "Standards and Freedom." If his party is returned to power the circular calling for a universal system of comprehensive education will be withdrawn in favour of one supporting independent schools "of proven worth."
He uses the example of the superior academic achievement of Manchester's voluntary Catholic schools, compared with the county schools, as illustrating the need for "provisional assessment" of comprehensives.
"The Conservative Party is in -no way against comprehensive schools," he writes. "What we oppose is the ruthless and mindless imposition of these schools everywhere as a matter of dogma."
In Manchester, since 1967, "from being markedly below the academic standards of the countSr schools, the Catholic schools at the end of a sevenyear period had forged ahead
and their academic achievements were higher than in the non-religious schools," He notes that more than 70 per cent of the pupils of directgrant schools go on to university, and says these schools should be preserved. "You cannot have a soul transplant!"
The system for assisted places at such schools would be reviewed .and made more efficient by a Conservative government, and if local education authorities declined to take
up the free places, they would be offered direct to parents.
"There is widespread confusion about what the words 'religious instruction' mean," he writes. He thinks the basic problem Facing Britain today "is not so much moral decline as _moral uncertainty."
Moral advance has come from a development of social and world consciousness, making an initiative appropriate "to forge a constructive partnership between parents, teachers and religious and social workers.
"What is needed is a conference of all interested parties to analyse the problems and put forward agreed solutions." At this "the Church of England, as the Established Church of the country, should play a leading role."
Other churches, the British Council of Churches, Jewish representatives, the Humanist Association and the Social Morality Council should all participate.
The conference would discuss: "What is the place of religious education in contemporary pluralist society, -a society which, although increasingly secularised, is friendly, not hostile, to religion: and how can parents and teachers be effect iyely helped to bring up children in a decent and moral manner, to make the best of their lives and contribute to the future of the nation."
The "Parents Charter" spells out greater parent power and participation in their children's education, making schools more sensitive to parents' wishes, giving parents rights to appeal against the school allocated to their children, fostering parent-teacher zissociations and suggesting that schools should prepare "prospectuses" giving their educational record and objectives.