Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Excuse me, that's our school

Ready for demolition?

Very important story to flag up today. On the front page of today's Daily Telegraph we read this story, which has big implications for our schools in England: "Top Catholic grammar school faces closure".

The story centres around St Joseph's College, Stoke-on-Trent - a Christian Brothers foundation of 1932. This school is a Roman Catholic Grammar School (i.e. mainly state-funded but religiously and academically selective). Many conservatives will see this as a threat to selective education. But I'm more concerned by the threat to a Catholic school. NB The Church owns this school.

According to a source in the council, this proposal is 'motivated by a desire to allow deprived children living nearby to attend.' Here we have to make an inference. Catholic families no longer live in concentrated communities in inner city areas (the ethnic demographic has changed since these schools were founded). Catholics are now geographically scattered, often in more prosperous suburbs. A Catholic school will now serve a larger catchment zone.

Does anyone know this particular area?

If this school becomes a comprehensive for the immediate community, will it simply become a school for deprived inner city Catholics? I do not know the area, so I simply ask: who are the deprived of this area? My slightly educated guess is Asian/Muslim. Is St Joseph's about to cease to be a Catholic school?

Surely we need an action plan to rescue our Catholic schools and the investment made in them by past generations. The battle that I hope is about to begin in Stoke is a battle that concerns each of us Catholics in England.

The reaction of the St Joseph's community will be interesting. The headmaster is clearly unhappy; this is a highly successful academic school under threat from a hostile state takeover.

But also interesting will be the response of our bishops. Over the past decades our bishops, in stark contrast to their heroic predecessors who established these great schools, have failed to support our schools. Firstly they have blessed families who have chosen to send their children to non-Catholic schools. What once was a grave duty - to send one's kids to a Catholic school - is now an equally valid choice. All the top Protestant public schools have excellent chaplains, some of our best clergy, laid on by the Church for the children who should be in Catholic schools.

The second failure by the bishops flows from the fact that they do not believe in selective education. So they might welcome this move.

It's all utterly outrageous; part of the ongoing opposition of Labour national and regional government to Catholic institutions. For a good history of the school in question, written by a former brother of the community, vide.


Matthew Gerard said...

This issue seems very similar to the adoption scandal of this year and can only lead to greater independence and/or elitism.

Catholic schools and adoption agencies accept the government funding and therefore should not be surprised that they eventually end up having the government's erroneous policies enforced upon them.

The resulting circumstances will require (as you suggest) action (and direct funding) from the Archdiocease of England and Wales or independent schools paid by the rich that can act outside of the state sector.

The church has been antipathetic and cowardly for a long while now and maybe being cornered in this manner will (at last) force someone to be bold and brave.

As our current great pontiff has concluded a smaller, purer, independent and more determined Church in Europe may not be such a bad thing and the strike on such a central issue as Catholic education may only force our hand.

Rita said...

I have no idea what this particular school is like. However, too many Catholic state schools are Catholic in name only.

Whilst they are constrained by the national curriculum, government imposed selection procedure and the odious Connexions, they can never fulfill to role they should have within the Catholic community. Further to this, there aren't enough Catholic teachers to go round.

If I return to teaching in a Catholic school, it will be to an independent one. The state is deliberately turning faith schools into a bad caricature of what they should be because they are frightened by what they could be: a real engine for renewal and revival.

Ttony said...

You pose two different questions: should a Catholic school have its selection-by-religion policy changed by non-Catholics? Absolutely not!

Should Catholic Bishops support education based on academic selection? Well, there are two views, both entirely consistent with a Catholic point of view. "Give the best to our children" might mean an intensive academic formation for those whom it best suits, as long as it doesn't lead to catholic educational apartheid for those who don't pass the 11 Plus and are left languishing at poor Catholic Secondary Modern(-equivalent) schools; or it might mean world-class Catholic Comprehensive schools which fulfill the potential in every child, recognising that 50% A*-C in five GCSEs might be an unreachable target, but able to be proud of what it achieves for every single child.

Either solution would be OK, but I'm not aware of a Catholic Diocese which has faced up to achieving either in practice.

The Holy Office said...

I couldn't agree more with both Matthew Gerard and Rita in their dissatisfaction.

Rita: this school may or may not be a good 'Catholic' school. Whether or not it is, it belongs to the Church, not to the state.

It maybe the Church needs to wake up to two things: first, the state wants to confiscate its schools; and secondly, our schools need to return to their roots: Catholic schools means having practicing and orthodox Catholic teachers teaching Catholic pupils.

What about a gradual and partial privatization of our schools? Selling some off in order to raise enough funds to support poor pupils.

If the product was good, committed Catholic parents would make sacrifices to pay what fees they could afford.

On the side of the angels said...

Schools are a quick way for dioceses to gain a fast buck.
Easiest way to get access to the cash?
get the school on special measures .
How ? Employ only the cheapest of newly trained/trainee teachers - rid oneself of the more expensive 'senior teachers' by suggesting early retirement.
Change the structure of the Board of governors and give them sdministrative powers to employ - i.e. remove the teachers/headteachers adjudication of an interviewee's pedagogic capabilities and instead allow ill-informed governors to make those decisions grounded upon ideological educationalist/sociological sentimentss.
Couple of years down the line and the school will be in such a state of disarray it will be easy pickings to sell off.
They did it twice in my town and are in the process of doing it to two other schools - I cannot go into the details but these are deliberately willed machinations of certain individuals to ensure that they have enough readily available resources for their other enterprises which have enormous expense accounts....

It's the money !
check to see if there's a new diocesan pastoral initiative or lay conference or diocesan 'council of the faithful' including a year long initiative [which will cost millions, leave our pews empty and disenfranchise our children] for pastoral renewal - and I guarantee they'll pay for it by selling off churches and catholic schools !

snhs said...

Just wanted to inform you of the petition to keep the school opened at

If any U.K. based supporters could sign up for it. The petition states:

"A top-performing school has been told it could be shut down and replaced with a new school.

If the closure goes ahead, St Joseph's College, in Trent Vale, could be forced to ditch its grammar school status and become a Catholic comprehensive instead.

This will result in families from Newcastle, the Moorlands, Stafford, Stone and south Cheshire being denied places there in future. At the moment, around 60 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds at the school live outside the city boundaries.

The future of St Joseph's is tied up in a £200 million scheme to transform secondary education. Heads were today being called to a meeting with Stoke-on-Trent City Council and private firm Serco to be briefed on the latest plans.

But Ms Maguire,the head teacher, found out by chance last week that her own school, which has 950 pupils, is in the frame for possible closure.

With its amazing examination results at GCSE and A level the closure will be a disaster to its community and must be kept open at all costs, so please help."

Anonymous said...

the independent catholic schools tend to be least catholic because they need fee payers so the catholic identity is usually a fragrent reminder from a former era rather than strong religious teaching the state catholic schools have mainly re teachers not with a strong liberal agenda but themselves are a product of the weak catechisis of the last 30 years the best thing that could happen would be for a totally seperation so all catholic schools are independent then the catholic identity could be restablished

Anonymous said...

guess which type of school most if not all of the bishops went to ?

The Holy Office said...

A belated thanks for these responses. I've put my name down on the petition, and encourage others to. Thank you, snhs!