Catholic independent opts in

An independent Roman Catholic school is to opt into the state sector so that the religious order which runs it can divert funds to the Third World.

St Joseph's College, a selective mixed school in Stoke-on-Trent has been approved for grant-maintained status from next April by the Education and Employment Secretary. It is part of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, the same religious order as St Anselm's College, in the Wirral, which was the first school to opt in.

Two other schools in the order are in the process of going GM: St Ambrose, a boys' selective in Trafford is under consideration by Mrs Shephard, and St Edward's, a selective mixed school in Liverpool, is in the statutory consultation period.

Brother George Gordon, the CCB's province leader, said the trustees saw opting in as an opportunity to make their schools more widely available to the Roman Catholic community. Places would no longer depend on parents' ability to pay which was in keeping with the founder's idea.

The worldwide order was established in 1802 by Edmund Rice in Ireland to give poor children a Catholic education. There are about 60 members in the UK. The brothers have increasingly turned their attention to work in the war-torn countries of West Africa leaving their schools in the care of lay teachers. About 35 brothers teach refugees in dangerous situations.

"As trustees we couldn't guarantee the financial future of the schools as they depend on the CCB for capital development," Brother Gordon explained.

John Stoer, head of St Anselm's, said the foundation's policy had changed in the past five years with none of the heads in the eight CCB schools being brothers. His school decided to go independent in the late 1970s when the local authority introduced a co-educational policy and the order was not allowed to teach girls, but seven years ago it became mixed.

He expects the pupil:teacher ratio to rise from the low 20s to 30 when the school becomes GM and pupil numbers to increase from 470 to nearly 600. No redundancies are planned.

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