As a Catholic and a socialist I am impressed by Tony Blair's political philosophy which stresses the importance of the relationship that individuals should have with their own communities. I cannot, however, understand how this fits in with his cholce of the London Oratory as a school for his son.
Those who seek to defend Tony Blair by saying that no one would have questioned his decision had the Inner London Education Authority still been in existence or that many children travel long distances and cross borough boundaries to go to school, employ secular defences which should not apply to Catholic education. I always understood that these schools were there to serve the needs of the local community and no other. They should select their pupils only on the grounds of faith.
Similiar secular defences are used by the London Oratory School to justify its admissions procedure. I know of pupils who were not awarded a place because their parents had not made the required number of visits to the school. Over-subscription presents any head with a problem, but solutions which look logical to one school are discriminatory to another.
I led the special needs department at a school which "competed" with the London Oratory and another over-subscribed Catholic boys' school for pupils whilst the ILEA was in existence. We admitted a disproportionate number of children who had difficulties with reading or learning, and emotional or behavioural problems. We also took many children who did not speak English as their first language. The majority of children who failed to get a place at the other schools did not know why. Their primary schools had taught them that they were valued equally. Secondary transfer showed them they were not.
The Catholic Church has always called on its members to take a responsible attitude towards the poorer members of the community. It also asks us to try to restore dignity to those who have had it stolen through poverty and injustice. To take the easy option by picking "safe pupils" does not serve this ideal well for it rejects the possibility of a dynamic society that is open to change.
The redistribution of wealth in educational terms will make demands of the "haves", be it in terms of intellectual ability, parental support, or stable backgrounds. There is no other way forward. We should not create artificial communities in order to defend or perpetuate an unjust society. Politicians who wish to change society need to start from a point of honesty, to do otherwise is to dismiss the incredible efforts which teachers make for their disadvantaged puplls.
Anne Curtis 33 Archbishop's Place, London SW2