The issue of Catholic schools is about parental freedom versus government control

Archbishop Nichols addresses Catholic schoolchildren yesterday (Mazur/

I have just watched last Thursday’s Question Time on catch up – you can do the same here and was a little perturbed by the discussion of ‘faith schools’, as they are now termed. You do not need to watch the programme to understand the following points, all of which strike me as obvious.

We have Catholic schools because there is a demand for them. Quite a strong demand for them. We could have, let us say, as David Dimbleby suggested, Marxist schools, but there is every indication that there would not be sufficient demand. People who wish to abolish Catholic schools need to take this on board – any such abolition would be going against the will of a considerable body of parents, and children.

Why do people want to send their children to Catholic schools? The answer is simple. Because they are good schools. Thus, those who oppose Catholic schools want to penalise success. Rather, they should try and learn from it.

Parental choice is, in the end, the only possible deciding criterion for which school to send your child to. The idea that the Government, or some other body, should make that choice on your behalf, is quite simply outrageous. After all, bringing up children is primarily the responsibility of parents.

Catholic schools do not represent ‘segregated education’. This phrase should not be allowed to go unchallenged. South Africa had segregated education: people were denied access to certain schools on grounds of race. People who wanted to be together were told that they were not allowed to be together. This is not the same as people wanting to be together, being together: that is freedom of association. To have a school for Catholics is simply allowing Catholics freedom of association.

Catholic schools are not sectarian. On Question Time last Thursday the troubles in Northern Ireland were attributed to ‘segregated education’. This is an easy attribution to make, but what hard evidence is there for this? Where are the sociological studies that tell us that people took to armed insurgency because they went to Catholic schools? Given that Northern Ireland had a very similar education regime to Scotland, Wales and England, it is remarkable that the troubles never spread to the rest of the United Kingdom.

The association of sectarian violence with Catholic education is also a slur on our schools, and a pointer to the ingrained anti-Catholicism of those who make this claim. Do they really think that the nuns and the priests pumped the children full of hatred for Protestants? I would love to see evidence of that.

It was disappointing to see little to dispel the idea that the default setting of most people, judging from the reaction of the audience, is that Catholic schools are a bad thing. But the opposite is true. Catholic schools are an excellent thing and by and large provide an excellent education. They are regularly inspected, and the hard data derived from those inspections is in the public forum. While many praise the idea of non-religious state education, let us remember that those who want that sort of school are free to choose it. Non-religious schools have to compete with religious ones as things are as present, and what is wrong with that? If non-denominational schools are the way forward, then surely they will flourish, without the need for coercive and penalising action against their rivals.

Catholic schools do not ask for any special privileges, merely a level playing field. And those who think that our schools are hotbeds of sectarianism and social divisiveness ought to visit a few of them and see the truth for themselves.