Bringing Catholics into the mainstream

30th May 2003 at 01:00
I enjoyed Father McCaffrey's contribution to the debate on Catholic schools (TESS, May 16), but I think he is wrong to impugn my logic.

The Scottish arrangement is uniquely flawed because the advantage claimed for faith schools ("integrating religious faith with other elements of the formal and informal curriculum") is in practice only available to Roman Catholic schools through an administrative and funding arrangement that is, to the best of my knowledge, unique in Europe.

In England and Wales, there are public sector denominational schools for Anglicans, Catholics, Jews and Muslims and the respective denominations make a contribution to their costs. This contribution is a recognition of the special nature of the provision and is a useful marker of the state's unwillingness to meet the whole cost of accommodating the wishes of a faith community.

However, the feature of the EnglishWelsh arrangement that is most relevant to the Scottish debate is that, south of the border, faith schools are not exclusive to one denomination. They are available in principle to all denominations and in practice to a range of the larger ones.

But if we were looking to establish a new denominational system appropriate to the 21st century, we would not adopt the English model.

I believe there is a silent major-ity that is greatly dissatisfied with the current privileged position of Catholic schools in Scotland, so we must find some way of integrating these schools more fully into the education authority sector. That means, in practice, removing the right of Catholic representatives to vet teachers for their religious belief and character and replacing Catholic religious instruction with mainstream religious and moral education.

Most of these schools would continue to exist and their names could be maintained, but they would be given mainstream catchment areas and all parents in their areas would be invited to enrol their children in them.

This is a very similar arrangement to that currently operating at St Joseph's College, Dumfries.

I would maintain that there is nothing illogical in this approach and I note with interest that Father McCaffrey's nuanced approach does not seem to rule it out.

Fred Forrester

North Larches, Dunfermline

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