Norman St John-Stevas
AS FAR as education reports go, the Department of Education and Science is beginning to look rather like a particularly leaky colander: in the past two years there has hardly been a major inquiry whose proposals have not been known to the public and Press weeks and sometimes months before publication.
The Catholic Herald is now the latest journal to join in the leaks game, and has given in the past two editions details of the recommendations of the Taylor report on governing bodies of voluntary schools.
The general proposals of this COMmillet, appointed after pressure by the Opposition in the Commons, were leaked earlier in The Times, but the point about the voluntary schools was not made. As has been shown since the Catholic Herald revelations, there is considerable interest in Catholic circles in the conclusions of the report.
According to the leaks, the Taylor Committee recommends that all schools, whether primary or secondary, should have, like the apostles, 12 governors, and these, unlike Gaul, would be divided into four parts parents, local authority representatives, teachers (including caretakers and dinner ladies), and local community representatives.
There would presumably be some process of election. This is certainly a worthwhile reform and deserves a warm welcome.
At the present moment all maintained schools (save voluntary schools) are under the control of the local education authority, which appoints the governors. Many of those so appointed take little interest in the schools of which they are nominally, in charge.
A school governorship is regarded in many places as the local government equivalent of the MBE! During the disputes about St Marylebone Grammar School, now tragically closed down by the joint action of the ILEA and the Secretary of State, it was found that many of the ILEA governors did not even know where the school was! Such a system clearly needs reform.
But what of the voluntary schools' If a school has voluntary controlled status the position is not especially difficult. The local education authority already controls the school since it has a right to appoint two-thirds of the governors and they can always outvote the minority of foundation governors, which is indeed what hamiened at St Marylebone.
The problem arises with the voluntary aided schools, where under Section 19 of the Education Act of 1944 two-thirds of the governors come from the foundation and only onethird from the local authority. This arrangement effectively preserves the independence of the school and is the basis on which the religious nature of the school is maintained.
"1 hese so-called foundation governors are, in the case of Catholic schools, appointed by the bishop of the diocese. It is the prospect of losing this episcopal control that has led to the expression of Catholic anxiety. The vast majority of Catholic schools are voluntary aided schools and controlled status is of very minor Importance.
Would the Taylor Committee proposals require legislation? As far as the non-voluntary schools are concerned they would not; that is, no law would be needed if local authorities chose voluntarily to appoint governors in the proportions recommended.
Section 19 of the Education Act provides that the governors of a secondary school shall be appointed "in such manner as the local education authority shall determine" and Section 18 provides the same for primary schools.
But if a local education authority did not agree with the proposals of the Taylor Committee — and I have good reason to believe that this will in fact be the case — then the Secretary of Slate would have no power to compel the local authority to comply. The provisions of Sections 68 and 99, which give the Secretary of State power to proceed against local educa tion authorities acting "unreasonably," would not be operative.
As to voluntary aided schools their position is fully safeguarded by the Act, and neither the Secretary of State not a local education authority would have power to interfere with the two-thirds proportion of foundation governors. The Act also defines the meaning of foundation governor in Section 114, where it states that the term is to mean "managers and governors appointed otherwise than by a local education authority for the purpose of securing, so far as is practicable, that the character of the school as a voluntary school is preserved and developed and in particular that the school Is conducted in accordance with the provisions of any trust deed relating thereto."
Yet there is a problem. If in fact the recommendations of the Taylor Committee were to be implemented throughout the maintained system then the position of Catholic schools would be weakened if they did nothing to approach them.
Mils was the argument which led the Catholic Education Council to cave in on the question of turning Catholic grammar schools into comprehensives.
Furthermore, it would be very odd if Catholic schwas remained controlled by the local bishop and Catholic parents were kept out when the whole Catholic philosophy of education is based on parental rights.
Surely Catholic parents could he trusted to preserve the Catholic character of the school, although Canon Veal in his statement appears to doubt it. Let us hope that the Catholic Education Council will come up with some constructive proposals so that we do not have a repetition of their feebleness over compulsory reorganisation.