By Fr. E. G. Riley
Rector of St. Bede's College, Manchester WE can all stop speculating now. Professor Donnison and his colleagues on the Public Schools Commission have produced their report, and two volumes of it were published last week.
In Volume I we are given the Commission's findings and recommendations about the direct grant grammar schools and independent day schools in England and Wales, with just a summary of the Scottish Committee's proposals and recommendations. The detailed report of the Scottish Committee appears as Volume III. Volume II has not yet appeared. It will contain ten appendices, giving much useful background information.
So we can stop speculating. at least about what the Commission has to say, on condition, of course, that we know what the report contains.
Volumes I and III together contain 338 pages of carefully thought-out reasoning. Summaries, however, are provided, and it will not be surprising if attention is mainly focused on one or two easily understood' sentences from these.
The main recommendations for the schools in England and Wales contain, in summary, three paragraphs which will form the basis for most of the talk about the report. One paragraph lists seven different roles for direct grant schools participating in a comprehensive system; another paragraph states that the present direct grant arrangements should be discontinued; and a third states that those direct grant schools which are unwilling or unable to participate in comprehensive re organisation should retain the right to become independent schools if they wish.
These are recommendations which are easily understood, and it is these which will be seen as putting an end to speculation about the future of direct grant schools.
Yet, quite apart from the fact that these recommendations have to be embodied in legislation before they can be implemented, there is the other undoubted fact that the members of the Commission themselves put forward two distinct schemes for incorporating the direct grant schools fully into the maintained system.
All the members of the Commission have obviously been impressed by the flexibility and freedom in the use of resources which direct grant schools at present enjoy. They all wish many features of this freedom to continue and, indeed, to be extended to other schools. One of the two schemes put forward would ensure a very considerable freedom of action to those schools willing to participate in comprehensive reorganisation.
Still the fact remains that if Parliament acts on the findings of this Commission, the direct grant schools will be faced with an alternative: to participate, and end selection, or not to participate and become independent.
This profoundly affects the Catholic body, for of the 178 direct grant schools 56 are Catholic, with some 35,000 pupils. Of these there arc 30,000 whose fees are paid by their local education authority.
The report also makes it plain that these include a large number of children from families where the father's occupation is semi or unskilled. It seems to be a fact that for the large bulk of Catholic direct grant schools complete independence is not possible, and it is certainly not desired.
These schools have had one object since they were founded to serve the needs of Catholic children in their area. In particular they have tried to make it possible for Catholic children of all social backgrounds to prepare to take their place in all the professions which still require a fairly high degree of academic attainment. This is still one of the needs, though only one of the Catholic community. It is, of course, a need which not only the direct grant schools but also the voluntary-aided and the independent schools are meeting. Many people would say it is also a need which can be met in a comprehensive system. They are probably right, but they are considering the application of a comprehensive system in favourable conditions, and it has to be said that in the very nature of things conditions are not favourable to a minority group like Catholics.
To function properly a comprehensive system requires large units. In order to cater adequately for the educational needs of all the children, a school should be able to admit six forms of entry each year. and most people would regard that as a minimum.
This means that a school which now takes 100 pupils at the age of 11 would have to find 200 pupils at that age, unless, of course, it became a school which received the 200 transferred from another school at the age of 14. However desirable this may be, obviously the more the population is scattered, The more difficult such a scheme is to arrange.
The report recognises this. In fact, in one paragraph (No. 220) we read that "in some places the denominational schools face particularly intractable problems." This paragraph is instancing the Catholic secondary schools of Manchester, but to some degree it applies to many other places.
It points out that it is precisely because the Catholic community has responded with courage and enthusiasm to the demands of the 1944 Act that these problems exist. At great cost, within the last twenty years, large numbers of Catholic secondary schools have been built. An efficient tripartite system has been established in which the direct grant schools have their own part to play. It is a costly form of built-in obsolescence.
The Catholic direct grant schools, like the rest of the Catholic educational system, have been built up over the years always with difficulty, often with sacrifice. The expansion of these schools owes much to the ploughing back of the balance of the salaries of those nuns, brothers and priests who teach in them. Along with the other secondary schools they have done a job of which they need not feel ashamed in providing academic opportunities for those Catholic children able to profit by them. In any negotiations about their future it is of great importance to us all that the strengths and skills of these schools should not be wasted, and 'that the opportunities they at present provide should be even more readily available than they are now.