by Murray White THE Government has abandoned plans to give additional money to oversubscribed schools, renewing fears that Catholic parents are being denied the right to send children to the schools of their choice.
Staff from the Catholic Education Service (CES) were due to hold an emergency meeting with Government officials this week to explain their "displeasure at the announcement.
Church schools are dismayed by the move, announced last week by Education Secretary John Patten, which they say will hit "the children themselves". Many Catholic children will be turned away from schools unable to meet the extra demand for places, teachers and parents are claiming.
Mr Patten has ordered local authorities to clamp down within the next three months on the large numbers of empty desks in classrooms. The new education bill, to be put before Parliament in November, is expected to give Mr Patten powers to step in to deal with the issue himself.
Michael Power, Deputy Director of the CES, said: "It is clear that the Government has reneged on a commitment made at the start of the year."
A spokesman from the Department for Education acknowledged that their priority to reduce surplus places would "ultimately free more money than the £20 million originally allocated in additional grants." He said the scheme to reward popular schools with extra cash was announced but never started.
Catholic authorities have long stressed that Church-run schools have not suffered from declining numbers of children of school-age as many state schools.
The announcement now leaves several Catholic schools "bursting at the scams" with little opportunity of receiving the funding needed for vital repair work or expansion to overcome cramped conditions. The deputy headteacher of a heavily oversubscribed Catholic school in Darlington, Co Durham, said that "basic needs" were being ignored by authorities.
Mary Dickson of St Bede's Primary School, said the school's applications to expand "had fallen on deaf ears".
St Bede's, built in 1987, is already turning away parents from a neighbouring housing estate which is expanding rapidly. Teachers had to conduct one class in the school hall for two years due to overcrowding.
The school is likely to be teaching more than 200 pupils in a building only designed for 180 when term starts this week, said Mrs Dickson. "Decisions are made politically. They do not even consider the children."
Mr Jim Foley, Chairman of the Parents Action Group at St Joseph's Primary, Birmingham, which successfully campaigned for a new school building earlier this year, said the announcement was "regrettable".