BY MURRAY WHITE
CHURCH EDUCATION LEADERS this week hit hack at a public declaration by Education Secretary Gillian Sheppard that Grant Maintained schools are being favourably treated for building grants.
In perhaps the clearest public admission yet that the Government is stacking the cards in favour of GM schools, Mrs Sheppard told a meeting of the GM headteachers' association last week that "despite very tight constraints on spending generally... we have preserved favourable treatment for the GM sector in the allocation of capital provision".
Margaret Smart, Director of the Catholic Education Service, told the Catholic Herald that it was of primary concern that all schools "be treated equitably", regardless of their status.
She welcomed pledges made in this direction by Labour's education spokesman David Blunkett and stressed that Church authorities would press the same case with governments of all colours.
Bishop John Brewer of Lancaster said that Mrs Sheppard's speech made it "more clear" that the Government favoured GM schools, although the Catholic sector had been aware of an imbalance for some time.
A long-time opponent of GM schools, Bishop Brewer last year publicly clashed with Mrs Sheppard's predecessor John Patten for creating what the Bishop saw as a "two-tier system". Believing this still to be the case, the Bishop this week said of his diocese's schools, none of which have opted-out: "We are a family, we stick together."
But Brian McCarthy, headmaster at St John the Baptist, Woking, one of the first of the now 130 Catholic GM
schools, said: "What people think is that schools have always been treated equitably, which is not true. There have always been large variances, mainly between local authorities."
The row came in a controversial week for opted-out schools, after Labour leader Tony Blair admitted that he was to send his son Euan to a successful Catholic GM school despite his party's previous opposition to schools opting-out from local authority control. Mr Blair's decision to send his son to the London Oratory GM School signalled a weakening of Labour's oppositiv to Grant Maintained schools just as the policy came under fire from elsewhere. The parry previously said that as a future government it would return GM schools to local authority control.