Page 8, 6th May 2005

6th May 2005
Page 8
Page 8, 6th May 2005 — Eric Hester says statutory regulations are making the task of school governors increasingly

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Eric Hester says statutory regulations are making the task of school governors increasingly

difficult. Time, he argues, for Catholic schools to be given more, not less autonomy

The end of ‘real’Catholic education

With all the gloom that the Catholic Church in England and Wales has experienced over the last few years, with almost everything in decline and the secular state winning all the battles, a bright spot has been the continuing strength of our schools. They are almost universally popular and respected and, in most areas, are at least as good as the state schools, usually better. This has been achieved by outstanding work by heads, teachers, pupils and parents, of course, and governors too. Our schools have, on the whole, been blessed by good governors with hard-pressed parish priests in the forefront, especially in primary schools.

My experience – and I was a Catholic head for 24 years – is that parish priests make excellent governors, being committed to the schools and well-known to parents and pupils. There are many other outstanding Catholic governors.

However, the situation for governors and schools has become steadily worse over the last 15 years or so. In order to run a school governors have to have full control of three important areas: the curriculum, the enrolment of pupils and the appointment of teachers.

Of course, independent school governors have these controls and I will not refer to these schools in this article; their excellence is well-known and they are a credit to the Catholic Church and to English education. But for maintained schools, the situation has become ominous.

Firstly, Catholic governors lost control of the curriculum with the introduction of the National Curriculum and all its works. It is now a daily struggle to keep out secularisation. Sex education is a problem, for instance, and some local education authorities are even trying to make Catholic schools have this at primary school level, where it is specifically forbidden by the magisterium of the Church.

Then the Government shifted the attack to the entry policy of Catholic schools. Information that I have received under the Freedom of Information Act shows that at a series of four meetings in June and July 1997 the control of admissions was taken away from Catholic governors, without any struggle from the Catholic Education Service.

Catholic schools have lost the control of their entry numbers and requirements. The situation is especially bad in small primary schools.

Now the target is the appointment of teachers. What should Catholic teachers be like?

This is what Canon Law orders: “Canon 803, Section 2 – formation and education in a Catholic school must be based on the principles of Catholic doctrine, and the teachers must be outstanding in true doctrine and uprightness of life.” I say that Canon Law “orders” because it is not a list of polite exhortations but the law of the Catholic Church. Most Catholic schools have “instruments of government” based on a trust deed which states, inter alia: “The school is to be conducted as a Catholic School in accordance with Latin Rite Canon Law and the teachings of the Catholic Church.” A school that breaks this could be taken to court for not keeping to its “instruments of government”.

Nothing could be clearer than that the governors need to control the appointment of teachers, and nonteaching staff for that matter. This has become more difficult because of the welter of employment legislation. However, it now looks as if this battle has also been lost and the Catholic Church in England and Wales is going to leave governors in an impossible position.

In February this year the Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales published a booklet, entitled Diversity and Equality Guidelines. This supports the Government’s perpetration of injustices and gives a kind of apologia for the Government, applauding the appalling legislation emanating from the European Union. Not surprisingly, the Government has paid the costs of the booklet and must be pleased to be allowed to call the tune. This must be the only document in the history of the Catholic Church where a Catholic body has accepted money to praise an attack on the Church.

The restrictions are incredible: “Catholic organisations must ensure that no job applicant or employee receives less favourable treatment than another on the grounds of race, gender, religion, or belief, sexual orientation or age.” Surely teachers will be exempt from this? Might be, is the advice of the booklet. It is not clear: “Every case will be different and must be considered on its own merits... Further guidance in each individual instance is available to governing bodies from the diocesan office.” So if a Catholic school wants a teacher, it might be forced to consider a 99year-old atheist Freemason who is a member of, say, a gay and lesbian group.

Worse is to come. Diversity and Equality tells schools and all Catholic organisations that the Gender Recognition Act of 2004 “gives transsexual people the right to appear before a gender recognition panel which may issue a Gender Recognition Certificate”. If a candidate for the post of reception teacher turns up with a moustache and wearing a dress, governors would not be allowed to comment on the matter.

Is all discrimination forbidden by our politicians? Of course not. Political discrimination is perfectly all right. Your local Labour Party will be perfectly free to advertise for a secretary who is a member of the party, but let a Catholic school even try to say that it prefers a Catholic and it will certainly lose its case.

Diversity and Equality is of no use as a practical handbook for heads or governors, nor as a statement of Catholic teaching, nor, least of all, as a polemical defence of this savage attack on the Church. It is unique in being paid for by the Government, and unique, too, for a Catholic booklet in containing no mention of the sacred name of Jesus, nor of His mother, no requests for prayer and not a single quotation from the Bible, or any authoritative text of the magisterium.

Why does this committee not fight the Government? The whole tone of the booklet is how wonderful this legislation is. Yet these very same regulations could see the end of “real” Catholic schools.

Let us be reminded of the words of the great 19thcentury Cardinal Pie, Bishop of Poitiers: “My brothers, all of you, if you are condemned to see the triumph of evil, never applaud it. Never say to evil: you are good; to decadence: you are progress; to the night: you are light; to death: you are life.”

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