BY SCO Admin | March 25 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

6B-ST-NINIAN'S-HS-GIFFNOCK

School is a victim of its own success

— Catholic Church laments decision by East Renfrewshire Council over entry to St Ninian’s HS

The Catholic Church has expressed ‘deep regret’ that East Renfrewshire Council has decided to remove the automatic right of entry to St Ninian’s High School, Giffnock, from pupils at St Angela’s and St Vincent’s primary schools in Glasgow.

The council’s education committee decided last week that—following a lengthy consultation process—automatic right of entry to St Ninian’s (right) will be reserved for pupils of East Renfrewshire’s Our Lady of the Missions, St Joseph’s and St Cadoc’s primaries from the school year beginning 2012.

The decision was made to solve overcrowding issues at Scotland’s top performing state Catholic secondary school.

The Church had responded to the consultation, however, by saying that, in instances of overcrowding, automatic right of entry to St Ninian’s should be given to Baptised Catholics, rather than removing the Glasgow primaries from the school’s catchment area.

Deep regret in Glasgow

A spokesman for Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow expressed his regret that the decision by East Renfrewshire Council will remove the Glasgow schools’ automatic right of entry.

“There would have been no St Ninian’s had not the families of St Angela’s and the former St Louise’s agreed, back in the 1980s, to having their children’s education disrupted to provide the necessary numbers to make the new St Ninian’s viable,” the spokesman said.

He continued by saying that it is ‘an injustice that the presence of Catholic children from these associated primaries should no longer be guaranteed, simply because the school has become so  popular.’

“The Church argued that when a Catholic school is oversubscribed there should be priority for those who belong to the Church in whose interest the school was established,” the spokesman said. “This seems logical and fair.

“Her Majesty’s Inspectors state quite explicitly in their report that three quarters of those who responded to the consultation opposed the council’s proposal, and that among them were Paisley Diocese and Glasgow Archdiocese.

“It is with deep regret, therefore, that we note that the council has ignored this majority and over-ruled the Church’s objections.”

Victims of success

Fr Thomas Boyle, parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Bishopton, and a Paisley Diocesan representative on the education committee for the council, re-iterated that the success of St Ninian’s and Catholic education further afield, has led to the problems related to overcrowding.

“Today we are the victims of the success of Catholic education,” Fr Boyle said. “It is not just St Ninian’s that is attracting a growing number of people who are sending their children to Catholic schools whilst they themselves have no particular affiliation to the Church.

“We know St Luke’s is doing likewise in Barrhead. Elsewhere the same is happening.  In Paisley the whole of primary seven from a non-denominational primary chose this year to go St Andrew’s Academy rather than Paisley Grammar, their associated secondary.”

Fr Boyle added that, for more than 15 years, he has been involved with consultation processes on proposals affecting schools and has ‘never found it a satisfactory way of making educational

policy.’

“In the end I doubt anyone feels satisfaction about the whole thing,” Fr Boyle said.

In a statement released last week, the council said pupils at the schools who have lost out ‘would have priority of access above all other criteria through the school’s placing request priorities.’

Councillor Alan Lafferty, East Renfrewshire Council’s education convenor, said: “Crucially it [the solution] also recognises the valuable contribution that children from the Glasgow schools have made. They will now receive high priority status above all other placing requests into St Ninian’s.”

— martin@sconews.co.uk

—     See Fr Thomas Boyle statement in full below:

The Diocese of Paisley first asked for a Catholic secondary in Eastwood

almost 40 years ago now.  Our local authority at that time was Renfrew County Council and this was known, in education terms, as District 1.  The Catholic children of Clarkston, Newton Mearns and Eaglesham were bussed to secondary school in Paisley.  Quite rightly the parents of those children wanted their own school and so negotiations were still continuing when Regionalisation came about.  Strathclyde Region did not think such a school was viable and so took two of the primary schools then associated with St.Robert Belarmine’s secondary and associated them with the new St.Ninian’s.  From its inception St.Ninian’s has been a school that served both communities, communities that came from two dioceses: Glasgow and Paisley.

Today we are the victims of the success of Catholic Education.  It is not just St.Ninian’s that is attracting a growing number of people who are sending their children to Catholic schools whilst they themselves have no particular affiliation to the Church.   We know St.Luke’s is doing likewise in Barrhead.  Elsewhere the same is happening.  In Paisley the whole of Primary 7 from a non-denominational primary chose this year to go St.Andrew’s Academy rather than Paisley Grammar, their associated secondary.  This is not simply a Scottish phenomenon; wherever you find Catholic schools: Africa, Pakistan, India, Japan, France, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, England, people are clamouring to have their children educated in such schools.   Flippantly, I have suggested to some that maybe we should just make all schools Catholic.  But underlying this choice is the glaring reality that Catholic schools do not contribute to bigotry or sectarianism.  If they did what are these people doing sending their children to these Catholic schools?  Many people find in a Catholic school an ethos and an ethical position that gives them confidence in the education that takes place there.  Politicians and others who lightly make connection between the sectarianism that exists in our society and denominational schools are to adapt a phrase looking at education from the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe.

But what happens when such schools are oversubscribed?

When the Church transferred its schools into the State system in 1918 the Education (Scotland) Act stated that such schools were established ‘in the interests of the Church’.  This was repeated in the 1980 Act and remains primary legislation for education in Scotland.  It is on this basis, and with simple logic, that we have argued that when a Catholic school is oversubscribed that there should be priority for those who belong to the Church in whose interest the school was established.  This is why the Church has supported those campaigning on this theme.  This does not mean that Catholic schools are only for Catholics, that has never been the Church’s position in its education mission throughout the world.  But, when they are oversubscribed our position is the logical and common sense one.  The suggestion by the Authority that they were open to legal challenge if such a policy was introduced is an understandable one but it seems to contain within it the belief that the Authority would lose.  This is a major point of disagreement between the Church and the Authority.

The Authority issued a challenge to the Church at the Short Life Working Group that the changing of the Guidance by the Scottish Government was a matter for her and not the Authority.  This we have taken up, pointing out the inconsistencies in Guidance that allows priority in Placing Requests but not at First Entry.  We await the Revised Guidance on the 2010 Equality Act which is due by this time next year.   It will be in this context that the Church hopes to engage with the Authority in relation to paragraph 57 of this Agenda item if it is adopted.

Her Majesty’s Inspectors have highlighted a number of issues, arising particularly for those children in Primary 6 of St.Angela’s and the former St.Louise’s:

the short time scale now available for the transition of these children into S1;

the allaying of the fears of those who opposed this set of proposals,

and, the consideration of alternatives to this set of proposals.

The Director’s Report rejects the alternatives to the proposals.  We could argue till we are blue in the face but the reality is this Committee must decide today whether to accept or reject this report.  If this set of proposals is agreed today and subsequently by the whole Council then the first two recommendations of Her Majesty’s Inspectors become more important.

Many parents, particularly those from the two Glasgow schools, have expressed anger and disappointment that the proposals consulted on are to go ahead.  In my correspondence since the Director’s Report was published the greatest cause of anxiety to parents in St.Louise’s and St.Angela’s is the robustness of the proposed changed priorities for Placing Requests to St.Ninian’s High School.  This is perhaps symptomatic of a lack of trust that struck me first at the Short Life Working Group and then during the Consultation period.  This needs to be overcome if parents are to be confident in making choices for the secondary education of their children.

The introduction of these revised Placing Request priorities is recognition of the unfairness felt by the parents whose children are currently in St.Angela’s and the former St.Louise’s.  It is the plight of these parents and their children which has most concerned Archbishop Conti and Bishop Tartaglia and continues to do so.  We are glad the Authority has

gone some way and recognised this in these revised criteria.

For more than 15 years now I have been involved with the consultation process on proposals affecting schools.  I have never found it a satisfactory way of making educational policy.  Passions are raised, tempers are heightened and some unfortunate things are said, and in the end I doubt anyone feels satisfaction about the whole thing.  This process was not about whether children would get a Catholic education it was about where they would get it.  It is unfortunate that the Church, the parents and the Authority have not agreed on how this question should be answered.

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