By refusing to toe the Catholic bishops' line and return to the aided sector under the new framework for schools expected to be outlined in next week's White Paper, they will remove the bishops' appointees' majority on their governing bodies. Instead, many of the schools want foundation status, under which bishops would only be able to appoint three out of 13 governors.
The Association of Catholic Grant Maintained Heads (ACGMH) says if the schools returned to aided status they would be worse off, because they would have to rely on their diocese to provide 15 per cent of capital funding. It is also concerned that ex-GM Catholic schools would be penalised by bishops who were against opting out. Only one in four of them had supported the policy.
The row comes on the 150th anniversary of government involvement in Catholic schools and threatens to sour celebrations in the 2,400-school sector.
The ACGMH has argued for a new category: foundationchurch school, which would allow them to ensure Catholic governance within a foundation-style structure.
Bob Cook, head of St Augustine's in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, said: "We have enjoyed the benefits of being grant-maintained and many of us do not want to go back to our former status."
Margaret Smart, director of the Catholic Education Service, said that if schools became foundation the church would effectively lose control over employment of the head and staff and could not guarantee a Roman Catholic ethos.