— CONFERENCE PLEA I A.STRONG plea that the control of Catholic education in Britain should be handed over to laymen was made by one the main speakers at last week's Catholic Education Council conference in St. Mary's College, Twickenham.
Such a policy would he "both right and profitable", said Mr. Noel Hughes, former educational journalist and broadcaster.
RIGHT — because "the very premise by which we claim to have separate Catholic schools anyway is a parent's right to educate his children as he will."
PROFITA B LE —because it would be more ellective in securing State aid, raising money from the Catholic laIty and in parentteacher co-operation.
"It is remarkable," Mr. Hughes said. "that parents have so little say in the schools v1/4 hich they claim and pay for. It is more than remarkable. In the eyes of some inside and outside the Church it lays us open to the charge of humbug."
The widespread attitude that lay people have the right to control their children's education—but that the power to exercise it is solely in priests' hands — "is much too serious and has gone on too long to be funny", he said. "It is time it stopped.
"I don't think it w ill be easy for the laity to be persuaded to take on their responsibilities. But the first step is for the clergy plainly and emphatically to yield the powers they do not need to have."
CLERGY JUSTIFIED Twenty years ago, he said, it was necessary for the clergy to fight to secure rights for Catholic parents. "Catholics of this country were for the most part poor and underprivileged and unorganised. If the clergy had not led, there would have been no leadership.
"There was every justification for the clergy assuming then the posters that they did, just as there is no justification now for their retaining them."
Lay control of Catholic schools would also be more profitable and effective in three ways, he said.
1 Getting schools. While lay , people can press for more grants. "the men at the Ministry can't be fooled. They know who does the negotiating . . . It is a plain political disadvantage for power to lie as openly as it does with the hierarchy."
2Paying fur them. "People have • money. They will give it away for a good cause. They cannot be expected to see education as a good cause if they have as little say in it as they do. Because education is run in a way that so often shuts out the laity, their direct contributions to its cost are so small that you have to fall back on bingo to fill the gap."
9 "We shall have much better el• schools if we have the parents more closely associated with them."
Mr. Hughes said the change to lay control should come quickly, particularly now that local authorities are deciding whether to organise secondary and grammar schools into comprehensives. "The pattern of secondary provision is dynamite. I hope we shall not he so foolish as to try to settle it without some very serious and open attempt to consult the views of parents—however difficult that may be."
Ile then listed a number of concrete suggestions for giving lay people more control.
1. The parish priest should always sit on the governing body of his primary school, though not as chairman.
2. All schools should have active parent associations.
3. Accounts should be made public when parish money is spent on a school.
4. School news should be published in the parish bulletin.
5. The Catholic representative to a local education committee should be a layman.
6. A parish should be able to keep back up to five per cent. of its diocesan "tax" for its own school.
7. Catechism classes for children who can't get into Catholic schools should be treated seriously, run by a number of parishioners and paid for out of educational funds.
8. The Catholic Education Council should be expanded both in scope and in personnel.
Other speakers at the three-day conference talked mainly of the need for better communication between parents and teachers. Mr. J. R. Doyle, president of the Catholic Teachers' Federation, described the strength of PTAs in other countries.
Mrs. Elena Burgess, of the
National Board of Catholic Women. said there should be more of them here and they should not be regarded as merely fund-raising groups. -Why are parents and teachers suspicious of each other?" she asked.
Mr. M. J. Caulfield. headmaster of Bishop Douglass School, Finchley, said teachers and parents should meet each other individually at least once a year.
Fr. Anthony Emery described the structure of the Birmingham Archdiocesan Schools Commission of which he is chairman. And Mr. Patrick McLean, of the Catholic Parents and Electors Association, said parents' duties "arc not fttlfilled by 'helping the school'. We do not help the school. We are part of it". Bishop Petit of Menevia presided.