Catholic clergy at bay over future schools control

Since we’re on about the Church, in Northern Ireland the decision to make the new Education and Skills Authority (after I hope only a temporary hiccup) the general school employer, will further erode the role of the Catholic clergy, already much less than in the Republic, as far as I can make out. Did it happen when nobody was looking? Might the secular trend advance even further if as a solution to the school transfer impasse, choice at 14 was to replace selection at 11? I ask this without malice. The Church, clerical and laity did a good job holding the ring for civilisation during the Troubles but now, we’re entering a new world. Remember the old techs , the sector that was squeezed in the tripartite grammar, technical and intermediate 1948 settlement and then morphed into something else? In England if the Tories win, techs are set for a comeback sponsored by the former Ed Sec Ken Baker. In NI, the techs were religion- blind and that unfortunately hampered their development. But not so today. Imagine a string of specialist post-14 schools including techs, with open teacher recruitment, planned for local economic, social and intellectual needs, no money diverted for religious apartheid. The Church in its various forms could keep them to 14. The replacement of CCMS by ESA as the employer happened with hardly a peep from the laity, right? So the clergy are nervous. An unknown vista stretches before them, in itself a challenge to influence and authority some believe has virtually gone anyway. As a result of local area planning, pressure will surely come before long to extend fair employment to the school system, the glaring omission in a community divided over equality. The normally mild-mannered Cardinal Brady, clearly deeply worried that the “Catholic ethos” will be diluted isn’t giving up without a fight.. The UUs are just as worried. Clearly ESA has much to commend it.
Extr from Cardinal Brady homily

“it is imperative that we work to ensure the legislation for the new Education and Skills Authority does not dilute the hard won rights of Catholics and others in this area. I want to make it clear that the Trustees have not agreed to or signed off on any aspect of the proposed legislation for the ESA. We remain very concerned about certain aspects of the draft legislation, especially in relation to the employment of staff and the proposals for area based planning. We will continue to scrutinise the proposals and test them against the rights of every parents to have their child brought up in acc ordance with their religious and philosophical convictions, a right recognised and protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The Cardinal’s positioning is not without merit. The Church is the people and the people may well want to preserve the “ethos” – i.e. catholic teachers for catholic pupils. Perhaps local votes could decide.

Entry is open to all, whether or not Protestants take advantage of it.

And the clergy are militantly against 11 plus selection, believing presumably they have the enumbers wirth them. The cardinal has delivered a belt of the crozier to those Catholic grammars for going it alone – ” a fundamental value of Catholic education is potentially undermined.”

So in education, the Church is far from giving up the ghost.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London