SIR,-It is with some diffidence that I ask leave to say a few words about the position of Catholics in the present controversy. Anything savouring of giving advice to a body to which you do not belong is open to a short and easy answer. Perhaps, therefore, I may be allowed to say that I have often received the compliment that I understand the Catholic position unusually well for one who is not a Catholic, and I can certainly claim to understand the position of the teachers. and possibly the general educational situation, better than do the majority of Catholic leaders.
The position is that the usefulness of the dual system of provided and non. provided schools in present circumstances is called into question. On the one hand, it is highly probable that the number of Church of England elemen
tary schools giving doctrinal instruction is greatly in excess of any genuine demand by the parents. On the other hand, the present regulations and the conscience clause put grave difficulties in the way of giving religious instruction of any value in the provided schools. The time is ripe for a rearrangement, and whether or no the rearrangement will be valuable and harmonious depends to a considerable extent on all concerned facing the facts fairly and squarely, discussing the issues calmly, and avoiding violent controversy.
Sir Frederick Mandelquite recently has put the case of the teachers. He has done so carefully, moderately, and with the minimum of controversy. Sir Frederick Mender, being the secretary of the National Union of Teachers, very rarely intervenes personally in educational controversy. When he does so, it may be assumed that he has strong support. It should be remembered also that many of the teachers are also parents of children who use the schools, and no other organised body of such parents is heard in the current controversies. The other bodies which might exercise some influence, namely, the Trade Unions, take very little interest in the matter. Most of those whose voices are heard so loudly are, from the point of view of the schools, outsiders, that is their children are not educated in the ordinary elementary schools.
There has been a tendency in Catholic circles to make a violent attack on Sir Frederick Mandel-. That seems to me unwise. He stands for a large body of opinion, and, whether or no his particular proposals will be found to be practicable, he does state correctly some necessary conditions for an amalgamation. In particular, it is quite certain that nothing in the way of definite doctrinal instruction in the ordinary State schools is possible or desirable under present conditions.
If anyone interested will enquire what proportion of non-Catholics in this country attend the churches or chapels, or send their children to the Sunday schools, it will be obvious that teaching of this sort is not valued by the average parent. Teaching must take the form of Christian ethics, not Christian doctrine. I cannot imagine teachers in the State schools definitely denying the distinctively Christian doe trines, but it would not be allowable for them to be definitely taught.
Catholics, therefore, must decide whether they need, or demand, definite doctrinal instruction in the schools. If they do there is only one way in which they can obtain it. They must keep their own schools at all costs. If they are quite decided on this point, I doubt whether there will be any serious attempt to take them away. If there is a real demand, it must be met. On this matter, they would need to stand apart from the general national life as a special community with special needs. That is the vital question which Catholics must decide for themselves. But Catholics should understand clearly that no other body has similar claims, and that the agitation from other quarters is largely artificial.
Whichever Way they decide. I trust there will be no unnecessary trouble about the minority of children who cannot attend Catholic schools. For such children the question arises whether a syllabus of Christian ethics divorced from Christian doctrine is positively objectionable to them. Obviously, it is not what they want, but can they tolerate it?
With diffidence, I submit that, from the Catholic point of view, no doctrine at all is better than a partial and incomplete doctrine. I hope, therefore, that they will he able to regard it with toleration. We want. if possible. to get rid of the conscience clause. It not only upsets the school curriculum. but puts the children into a. very invidious position.
It may be necessary to make special provision for Catholic schools, but, apart from that, it is to be hoped that Catholics will do their best not to handicap the proper organisation of the schools of the nation. If, apart from the Catholic schools, we can ohlain a truly national system, very many advantages will be gained.
H. S. SHELTON
5, Ferry Road, Teddington.