by Murray White
THE Government has lost sight of the good of the society in its "market" orientated plans for school reforms, Church education authorities declared this week.
In its official response to Education Secretary John Patten's key Whitc Paper on schools, published in July, the Catholic Education Service in England and Wales (CES) expressed its grave concern that a two-tiered system is being created by the establishment of Grant Maintained schools.
"We remain unconvinced that much of what is proposed is in the best interests of all pupils," said the strongly worded ten-page submission to the Department for Education.
The CES, which officially negotiates with the Government over schools issues on behalf of the bishops, also lamented that Mr Patten had made no mention of the vital role of teachers in the White Paper. There is concern that no money is being made available for popular schools many of which are Catholic to expand and that pupils are losing out in a squeeze on school bus passes.
The policy of allowing most schools to opt-out of local authority control the lynchpin of Mr Patten's reforms came under fire from the Church, despite growing acceptance from some diocesan schools authorities.
While not opposing increased independence and self-management for schools, the CES warned that "there is no reason to believe the growth of the Grant Maintained sector will do other than undermine the financial viability and reputation of those schools which remain outside."
But Brian McCarthy, headmaster of St John the Baptist School, Woking one of the dozen Catholic schools to have so far opted-out defended the principle of GM schools, He believed it was Catholic schools that oftcn had poor support from local authorities. "We were never involved in any pilot schemes here in Surrey in my 17 years as headmaster. They were bonuses that always went to local state schools."
"The hierarchy is getting the message wrong. A lot of the wastage of the local authorities will end," he said.
The lack of attention given to the "crucial" role of teachers is a "very serious omission" according to the CES. It said: "There is a complementarity between teacher and parent, school and family which must be a central part of any policy." Mark Philpot, Secretary of the Catholic Teachers' Federation, warmly supported the CES backing of teachers. He questioned John Patten's commitment to a "new century of excellence," after giving so little time to respond to the White Paper, which seems set to form a Parliamentary bill in November.
"Doesn't a new century of excellence deserve more than eight weeks of consultation? It is difficult to see the parts of this hill forming a cohesive whole," he said.
On bus passes, the CES says: "We are becoming increasingly concerned that a number of our schools are at risk of losing pupils because their parents are unable to meet transport costs."
In Hertfordshire, where the local authority was the first to end free bus passes two years ago, one Catholic governor, Alan Scouller, has just written to the local council about the impact the policy is having on John Henry Newman school, Stevenage. Bishop James O'Brien, area bishop in Hertfordshire, said: "We are hearing of schools in trouble."
The CES submission welcomed a renewed emphasis on religious education, and special needs.