If it still works why fix it?;Leading Article;Opinion

7th May 1999 at 01:00
SUPPORTERS OF Roman Catholic schools are always faced with the dilemma that in conceding the principle of state support for denominational education, how can they deny it to Jews, Muslims or, for that matter, flat earthers. Lindsay Paterson, a researcher in public policy, came up with an answer when he spoke to the Catholic headteachers (page five), but it was flawed.

Professor Paterson suggested that the Catholic community pay up to 15 per cent of the cost of separate schooling and that other groups intent on having their own school should do likewise. The model he admires is Danish, but each country's history produces structures that are not necessarily exportable.

The 1918 Act removed one element from the denominational debate by putting all public schools on the same financial footing. Professor Paterson would reintroduce the old grievance on the ground that what is specially valued should be paid for, at least in part. On his own admission he would be taxing success since Catholic schools perform well, and not just academically.

The debate about denominational education should not turn on financial disincentive. It remains about numbers, and so far there are enough parents to make Catholic schools viable. Time, rather than a gung-ho new parliament, may alter things. Meanwhile, the anomaly about other groups remains, but history does not leave tidy, rational legacies.

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