Roman Catholic bishops have said the 'special mission' of primaries in deprived areas demands an increase in funding. Steve Hook reports
THE CATHOLIC Church has stepped into the row over funding for deprived schools, saying that all primaries in poor areas need more cash A report by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales says primaries in impoverished areas require extra support to compensate for social disadvantage.
Such schools have "a special mission which deserves to be more clearly acknowledged," says the foreword, written by Bishop Vincent Nichols, chairman of the Bishops' Department for Education and Formation.
This is the first major educational statement by the Catholic Church in Britain for two years. Shortly before the last election, the Bishops criticised league tables as "against the spirit of the Gospels".
The report found that, in Catholic primaries, as in other schools, there is a strong correlation between pupil affluence and achievement.
The Bishops point to the fact that a third of children live in poverty. Four million children were growing up in households with less than half the national average income by 1995-96 - the level having risen steadily since the 1970s.
The report urges ministers to find "more equitable funding formulae" which take more account of the needs and challenges which schools in poor areas face.
Other recommendations include:
* Publication of "value-added" test results that reflect the progress made with low-achieving pupils;
* widening the definition of "success" to include the broader education of pupils as well as test results;
* more retention of male teachers to act as role models for boys;
* a national network to be set up so schools in poor areas can pool ideas and resources.
The report concludes: "Most of the 46 schools participating in this consultation are succeeding by any reasonable measure of success in the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves.
"At the same time, for many their success is dependent on an extraordinary commitment of time, energy and love. Some are struggling not to be tipped into a spiral of decline.
"These schools and many other schools like them, Catholic and otherwise, need support in their very difficult mission serving the poorest children and families in the most deprived communities of our society."