By a Staff Reporter
About 55 Catholic direct grant schools will be included in an extra £800,000 which will be paid out by the Government from the beginning of next month.
Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas, Under Secretary of State for Education, last week pledged full Government support for the schools. There are altogether 176 direct grant schools in England and Wales attended by 103,000 pupils. The 55 Catholic schools have 38,000 pupils. The grant will be increased by £8 to £79. The rise, which is in addition to the £84 also paid to the schools for each sixth-former, will bring the total cost of the grants to £12.7 million.
Mr. St. Joh n-Stevas said: "We regard this cash as being indeed will spent and an educational investment that probably gives us the best value for money in the whole of our programme. I take this view for a number of reasons but perhaps the principal and most important is that the direct grant schools are independent schools in special relationship with the State and provide an invaluable and most necessary bridge between the independent and maintained sectors.
"The connection between the schools, the Government and the local education authorities creates a range of real and tangible contacts with the community as a whole.
'Best hope for future'
"In the building up and multiplying of such bridges lies the best hope for an harmonious educational future. How much better it will be for our children if the two sectors of the educational system can move closer to each other and work together in mutual respect and fruitful co-operation rather than be driven apart by fanatical, intolerant and ill-thoughtout policies designed to produce the very divisiveness of which the private sector is so unjustly accused. "We cannot afford a cold war in education. Seen in this perspective of the future, the direct grant schools, far from being hyphenated hybrids surviving from a dead past, are pioneer and relevant institutions fitted to make a unique contribution to the resolution of the tensions within our educational system. "A further reason for continuing the support of the direct grant schools is that they offer an important alternative choice within our education service. The Government ideal both for education and society is to create a rich diversity of choices which are steadily made available to more and more of our citizens. We set our face against the dreary drive to equality which will reduce liberty to the selection of an option in the syllabus of a neighbourhood comprehensive school.
"Direct grant schools have their own special attributes, and marked amongst these is the sustained achievement of academic excellence. In general they have large sixth forms and a close connection with the higher branches of education. Scholarship is given its rightful place. "At the same time you have a wider social mix than many independent and comprehensive schools. Such traditions have to be built up by many generations of teachers and pupils: they are difficult to create but easy to destroy. To force such schools against their will into the maintained system woulddestroy their individuality. "You cannot have a soul transplant! Equally to make them opt for independent status would end their unique characteristic as bridge builders."
Mr. St. John-Stevas, who was
speaking at Merchant Taylors School, Liverpool, said: "Unfor tunately the Opposition has not stopped at lack of comprehension of the unique contribution of the direct grant schools but has moved on to adopt policies to compass their destruction."
Such a move would reduce the area of choice for Anglicans and others in religious. education and "raise acute financial problems for the Roman Catholic direct grant schools. I am told by the Catholic Education Council that these schools are burdened by £3 million worth of debt. Who is to discharge them?
'The Department of Education's budget is already fully stretched: the Romat Catholic Church is facing critical financial problems over its contribution to the capital cost of Church schools. The Opposition has clearly not thought out the implications of its policies.
"There is certainly no doubt about Labour's policy towards these schools. As the Socialist juggernaut moves forward towards the goal of universal compulsory comprehensivisalion of education the direct grant schools are to be among the first victims. It goes without saying', the Labour Front Bench spokesman has declared, 'that the direct grant would be ithdrawn' ".
Norman St. John-Stevas Interview — p.3