By Citra Sidhu THh ROW Over the future of the joint Catholic and Anglican school in Oxford has intensified after a report was published by the school's support group setting out its case.
The move comes just weeks after Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, gave his public support for the closure of St Augustine's Middle School on behalf of the Catholic cortununity.
In response, the archdiocese, which intends to replace St Augustine's with a Catholic secondary, issued a statement dismissing each claim.
The Catholic community has rallied round in support, with one informed observer calling the situation at the school a "marriage by rape".
However, Joan Townsend, chairman of the group, which is known as the 2003 Committee and made up of some of St Augustine's governors, said "The school has been called a beacon. We are determined that this beacon shall not be extinguished."
Fr Marcus Stock, executive secretary of the diocesan schools commission and author of the response, condemned the group's recent attacks on the archbishop and the accusations of "isolationism and anti-ecumenism" levelled at the Church. He said: "This is offensive. The situation is getting more and more unpleasant. The support group has the total ear of the press.
"No one wants to mention the fact that Cardinal Newman Catholic Middle School will also close if the city returns to a two-tier system.
"The archbishop is obviously concerned with this. St Augustine's has become a sacred cow."
The committee's report makes three main claims: that the school has a strong Catholic ethos and that weekly Mass is "well attended"; that the idea for the joint school was originally proposed by both Churches and that a Catholic secondary would be unsustainable.
Significantly, however, it makes no mention of the school's poor academic record.
Fr Stock said: "First, the idea for the school was proposed by the local education authority. Otherwise the school would have its own trust deed and would be owned jointly by the two Churches. It has always been solely owned by the Archdiocese. It was never ecumenical.
"Secondly, we are informed that oil average only three children and four staff attend the weekly Mass and thirdly, using our baptismal records, we have determined that a projected yearly school intake of 210 is realistic."
Both documents will be discussed by the school's governors at a meeting in June.
In a letter to The Catholic Herald published this week, Chris Bevan, director of the Vale of the White Horse Catholic Education Charity, which for the past eight years has worked towards establishing a Catholic secondary in Oxford City, describes the low level of achievement that has plagued St Augustine's since 1992.