BY Daniel Harkins | February 15 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Church expresses concern as council considers closing Catholic schools to save money

The Church in Scotland has expressed concern at a local authority’s decision to consider closing some of its Catholic schools in order to save money.

Midlothian Council announced the plans in a ‘Financial Strategy’ to account for a £7.4 million funding gap.

One of the council’s proposed ‘saving measures’ includes a ‘consultation on the development of a strategy for denominational school provision across Midlothian.’

The strategy document states that ‘should the outcome of this consultation be a decision to close school(s)’ it would ‘move to statutory consultation on the closures’ and adds that ‘the closure of certain school(s) would achieve savings.’

All of the council’s eight denominational schools are Catholic, including seven primaries and one secondary.

The council said that while ‘Roman Catholic schools are at capacity or near capacity,’ the ‘total capacity of these schools is considerably higher than the number of Roman Catholic children attending them.’

It also claimed that the ‘numbers of Roman Catholic children attending’ Catholic schools is ‘reducing.’

However the council failed to provide the statistics to support this when asked by the SCO.

The authority’s own figures show that the school roll was projected to increase from 2018 to 2019 in two Catholic schools, stay the same in one, and declined by an average of six pupils in the other five schools.


Future projection

Projected figures for the year 2046 show rolls increasing in four of the eight schools.

Only one of the Catholic schools is below 50 per cent capacity, while the rest are within the 50-90 per cent capacity range common for the vast majority of schools in Scotland, or over capacity, according to Scottish Government figures.

The document adds: “It has proved difficult to recruit headteachers, senior staff and teachers for Roman Catholic schools as they require approval by the Roman Catholic Church.

“Within Midlothian we currently have two Roman Catholic headteachers who have shared headships covering four of the primary schools.

“There are a range of possible outcomes from the consultation, including retaining the status quo or reducing the number of schools, which could mean the closure of some schools.”

Barbara Coupar, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said the council’s consultation was concerning.

“Catholic schools are chosen by parents of all faiths and none because they offer a distinctive approach to education.

“The choice of denominational education, for parents who want it, is one of the aspects of the Scottish education system that makes it world-leading.

“It is clear that in Midlothian, Catholic schools continue to be held in high esteem by parents, as they note that they are at (or near) capacity.

“It would therefore be concerning if the council were to suggest that popular, high achieving schools should be closed to meet a funding gap and not to improve educational outcomes for the pupils concerned.”


Church response

A spokesperson for St Andrews & Edinburgh Archdiocese said: “In our ongoing consultation with Midlothian Council, the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh has proposed that the local authority should review their entire educational estate and not just Catholic schools and also that the increasing popularity of Catholic schools with families who are not Catholic is confirmation that our schools exist to serve the wider community and, indeed, the common good.”

A spokesperson for Midlothian Council said: “Following the Learning Estate Strategy previously presented to Council, in June 2018 the director of education, the head of education and Catholic headteacher representatives presented a seminar to elected members on the denominational review due to issues raised about the difficulties in appointing to headteacher and teacher posts across our Catholic schools.

“The template in the financial strategy report is not new and simply asks elected members to agree to move from the informal consultation phase to the statutory consultation phase.”

Midlothian Council has outlined widespread plans for cuts to fill its budget shortfall.

Council leader Derek Milligan blamed the cuts on the Scottish Government, saying that because of ‘changes to the Scottish Government’s grant settlement, Midlothian councillors are still having to consider savings measures’ to bridge a £7.408 million funding gap, and that budget cuts will ‘decimate local services.’


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