by Joanna Moorhead
CATHOLIC education chiefs including Bishop David Konstant have been summoned to a meeting with government ministers to thrash out the issue which parents in Birmingham say is threatening their right to send their children to church schools.
Education minister Michael Fallon, who was to have met parents at St Joseph's Primary School in Kings Norton, Birmingham, this week in the latest round in a battle over the future of the school, cancelled his appointment at the last minute.
Instead he invited Bishop Konstant, who heads the bishops' department for Catholic Education and Formation, and officials from Catholic Education Services, to a meeting in London on Monday, Representatives from the Church of England General Synod Board of Education, including its chairman Bishop Michael Adie, have also been asked to attend.
On the agenda will be how the education department interprets its obligation to give children of a particular denomination the right to attend a church school.
The issue was brought to a head when St Joseph's was found to be structurally unsound several months ago.
Pupils were moved to temporary classrooms, and the Catholic education department in conjunction with the local education authority proposed plans to rebuild on a site 200 yards ago.
But the proposed plan was blocked by the education department in London, which claimed that there were surplus places in other local schools, including non-Catholic schools, and that pupils would have to seek admission there.
The dispute led to a huge outcry in Birmingham, where hundreds of parents, teachers and Catholic parishioners have signed petitions and lobbied MN to defend their right to send their children to a Catholic school, and Bishop Konstant is believed to now feel that the government is on the verge of backing down on the issue due to the rising pressure arid a nearing general election.
• CARDINAL Hume and Bishop Konstant have both welcomed this week's amendments to the Further and Higher Education Reform Bill in the House of Lords.
The government suffered two defeats after opposition led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey.
"It was with great relief that I learned of the successful passing of the amendment, designed to protect the provision of religious education for the 16-18 year age group in sixth form colleges," said the cardinal.
"It is e-ssential for the good of our society that we should retain proper provision for religious education for that vitally important age group."
Bishop David Konstant echoed the cardinal's words, saying he was "very pleased" at the changes passed by the Upper House.
Bishop Konstant said he had already called for a fight to ensure that religious education was not lost to sixth form colleges under the terms of the Further and Higher Education Bill.
He was very pleased to hear of the Archbishop of Canterbury's move, which meant the bill would now contain new clauses requiring a regular act of worship be held in sixth form colleges, and that religious education courses be offered to all who sought them.
The other defeat, catried by a majority of 14, brought in an amendment to limit the power of the education secretary over the appointment of staff, admission of students and duration of courses.
Commenting on the changes, Bishop Konstant said he was concerned that the tendency in education was for money-driven changes, and that minority interests would tend to disappear because they were too expensive.
"I wish we could keep education out of party politics but like it or not education is firmly in centre stage. One task we have is to see that RE in sixth form colleges (and not just in Roman Catholic colleges) is available for all students."