Cardinal launches schools' campaign
by Peter Stanford CARDINAL Basil Hume has launched a threefold campaign to defend Catholic schools in this country. Speaking to the National Conference of Priests in Birmingham, he spoke of the need for a change in the law to cope with the "havoc" caused by "opting out" legislation; a clarification of parental misunderstandings of their role in Catholic education; and a concerted effort to protect the work of clairch schools and their teachers.
Cardinal Hume told conference delegates of two legal developments "which strike at
the heart" of a bishop's ability Lo act effectively as the trustee of Catholic schools in his diocese. The opting out procedure, detailed in the 1988 Education Reform Act and giving schools the right to change from local authority to Whitehall funding, "has created the potential for havoc" in Catholic schools, the cardinal said.
"What has happened is that, as the bishops feared, it is possible for groups of parents to use the opting out provisions for another purpose altogether namely to escape from a school reorganisation plan devised in the interests of the wider community."
The failure of the 1988 Education Reform Act was in that it did not distinguish clearly between opting out of local
education authority (LEA) control, and opting out of diocesan control, the cardinal pointed out. "When an LEA school obtains grant maintained (opted out) status, the LEA has no further involvement with the school thereafter. But when a diocesan school gains grant maintained status, the diocese remains the trustee of the school . . . despite the fact that the trustee may have opposed the move because it was not in the interests of the Catholic community."
This use by parents of the opting out provisions to avoid reorganisation could be avoided, according to the cardinal, by a change in the law. Reorganisation would have to be completed before any opting out moves, he suggested. Leading article page 4 and conference report, page 3 Moviiig to the second "legal development", the cardinal outlined the recent case in the House of Lords which made it much harder for a school's trustee to dismiss his representatives on the governing body if they refused to carry out his wishes. This ruling must be changed in law, he said. "The trustee must have the power to appoint governors in their place who are prepared to carry out a policy which serves the interests of the whole community. Without such power t he trustee's responsibility to the wider community cannot be met."
Examining the question of a parent's rights over the direction of Catholic schools, the cardinal
drew attention to a twin interpretation of the second Vatican Council's Declaration on Christian Education and its reference to parents' "primary and inalienable duty and right in regard to the education of their children".
In considering this text, the cardinal made it clear that "there are two levels of parental rights. The more fundamental is the right to a Catholic education. This is the first and basic right of all Catholic parents. Secondly, at a different level, there is a parental right of the detailed choice of the type of Catholic school. But this right of Catholic parents is by no means absolute. It must be understood and exercised within the context of the whole church body. Decisions made about one school affect otherschools in the
area and the wider community". The cardinal went on to refer specifically in this context to the parents of the Cardinal Vaughan School in west London who wish to opt out in order to avoid diocesan reorganisation.
Turning to his final campaigning point, Cardinal Hume reported that in many Catholic schools the ideal of a community of faith "sadly . . . is far from being realised". One factor in this failure. the cardinal said, was that "too many teachers seem demoralised and disheartened". There was an urgent challenge to society here, the cardinal asserted "to
restore teachers' morale and to attract new recruits". The teaching profession "is a noble calling", and one that the community must come to value more, the cardinal urged.