BY FREDDY GRAY
THE HEAD of the Catholic Education Service (CES) has called for a meeting with the leader of a teachers' union after a vicious attack on the public funding of Church schools.
Dr Mary Bousted, general. seemtai of the 160,000-strong Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said that faith schools should be forced to pass a "community cohesion" test before getting state funtmg.
She said: "Faith schools must become far more accountable if they are to continue getting the current level of taxpayers money. In a country which is becoming increasingly secular and multi-faith, it is hard to justify public taxes being used to fund schools which discriminate against the majority of school children and potential staff on the grounds of their religious belief."
ATL attacked the Government for allowing schools to beCome more selective over pupil admissions and to discriminate against staff under legislation passed late last year.
The union said in a policy document that it was "highly questionable" that the expansion of faith schools would meet the Government's objectives of "higher academic achievements, increased parental choice and cx)herent morality systems for pupils".
The document added: "We believe that the resulting imbalance of education provision is too costly to justify such a flawed experiment.
But Oona Stannard, chief executive and director of the CES. rejected the criticisms of faith schools.
"Dr Bousted is entitled to her own views on society," she said. "But it is not acceptable to condemn schools with a religious character most of which are offering an excellent and well-rounded education to a very broad crosssection of the community, simply because she suggests that society is becoming increasingly secular."
Ms Stannard added that Catholic schools were -unapologetic" about their principles.
"I wish that Dr Bousted had given the major providers of Church schools an opportunity to inform her report or to at least see it before publication," she said. "I will, however, be inviting Dr Bousted to meet with me so that we can discuss any of these matters further." She also rejected the idea, put forward by ATL. that Catholic schools are not ethnically and culturally diverse.
She said: "An average of 30 per cent of our pupils come from beyond the Catholic Church: our free school meal levels are very similar to national levels and public bodies including Ofsted and the Commission for Racial Equality have acknowledged the considerable ethnic diversity of our schools."
In its policy document ATL argued that just as fee-paying schools seeking charitable status will soon have to pass a public benefit test, so faith schools should have to show how they promoted "community cohesion-.
The union criticised the Government for recent laws which granted faith schools the right to refuse to employ staff on religious grounds.
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said the Government wanted parents to have a choice over where to send their children to school.
"Decisions on expansion of faith schools or the building of new ones is rightly a local decision based on local need and local demand," he said.
-What matters is that all chil dren reach their full potential in whatever type of school they attend.
"Faith schools are often highly diverse. Catholic schools, for example. are among the most ethnically and socially diverse in the country. In addition, all faith schools have a duty to promote cohesion and to actively ensure that young people have a good understanding of other faiths and cultures."
A spokeswoman for All said this week that Oona Stannard's invitation had been received. "At present, we are just trying to arrange a suitable date for them both to meet," she said.