SIR.Once more we read of the decision by a local education authority to discontinue the use of free places in Catholic independent schools for the education of grammar school children. Two years ago a much more widespread and drastic reduction in free places at independent schools was made by the Middlesex Education Committee, and 11 Catholic schools were involved. The position in this matter is perfectly clear. but 1 doubt if many Catholics understand the issues which are involved.
The Ministry of Education quite rightly says that free places at independent schools are allowed only when needed to supplement the local provision of maintained grammar schools. But the L.E.A. is the judge in its own case! It is the L.E.A.'s business to decide that it has sufficient places in maintained schools. even though the world and his wife may know that the particular L.E.A. is lamentably short of grammar school places.
The L.E.A. officials can say that they can find grammar school places for all children who qualify • at the "scholarship" examination. Of course they can! They know the number of available places. and regulate the pass standard to secure that only so many children qualify. Thus. in Middlesex. there is an extremely high qualifs ing standard for admission to grammar schools, compared with either London or Hertfordshire. (I have good reason to be aware of the position in these three county areas.) -u. rt Middlesex is the county which decides to reduce the number of available places, and it so happens--as in Bournemouththat the Catholic children are almost the only children to be penalised. In the only portion of Middlesex where Catholics fought the "cut," the free places were restored.
I notice that the Bournemouth authority refuses to exercise the powers it possesses to provide "assisted places" at the two Catholic independent schools--places which would cost the parents a certain sum and which involve a means test. The use of these powers (under Section 81 of the 1944 Act) is not obligatory on the L.E.A., and I possess a letter signed by the late Mr. George Tomlinson, Minister of Education, that these powers are not mandatory, and that the authority are quite free to decide not to grant these assisted places. Middlesex granted a limited number of "assisted .places," but only to those who reached a very high standard in the examination (in spite of the fact that they would be the last to admit that Catholic schools had a higher standard than their own schools) and the income scale is generally regarded as imposing too great a burden on the parents.
I feel certain that in these matters we have only ourselves to blame. We allow the expert officials to obtain from elected representatives the powers they desire, and rarely make effective protest. It is time we Catholics took steps to save the Education Acts from being administered against our interests.
In connection with certain action on which I am engaged, I would welcome any information regarding individual cases in the Middlesex county area, which the parents concerned think exemplifies the position I have outlined. I would particularly like to hear of any cases of Catholic children who were directed by Middlesex to non-Catholic grammar schools after the parents had selected Catholic grammar schools.
J. J. 'Bateman. 159 Prestwick Road,
Carpenders Park, Herts.