2 May 2014
Diocese of Motherwell expresses ˜significant concerns over North Lanarkshire s schools proposals
In an extensive submission to North Lanarkshire Council s recent consultation on school provision, the newly appointed Bishop of Motherwell, Bishop Joseph Toal, has raised significant concerns about the Council s commitment to provide Catholic schooling and promised to stand together with the Catholic community in opposing proposals which would dramatically reduce the number of Catholic schools in the diocese.
In a letter to the Council which accompanies a lengthy submission delivered to the Chief Executive today (Friday, 2 May 2014), Bishop Toal says that proposals to alter the school estate provision have been carefully considered, together with the consequences that these might have for the pupils, teachers, families and communities involved . The Bishop adds: In the past few weeks the Diocese has met representatives from schools, parishes and the local communities and I have listened to their views on the matter. The formal response from the Diocese of Motherwell then lists a series of significant concerns about what some of these proposals might suggest about the Council s commitment to provide Catholic schooling on an equitable basis within this Diocese.
The submission points out that at public meetings NLC officers claimed that larger secondary schools are necessary to ensure adequate curriculum provision. Yet, they are content to have non-denominational schools with rolls as small as 414 in one case and fewer than 700 in 4 other cases. Across the authority Catholic secondary school rolls would be on average one third larger than non-denominational schools. This is highlighted by the Diocese, as inequitable treatment of pupils attending Catholic schools.
In asking for a reconsideration of their proposals, the Bishop assures the council, that the Diocese will always be keen to work in partnership with the Council to ensure the best provision of services to the community.
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Notes to Editors:
1. Bishop Toal, was appointed by Pope Francis on Tuesday 29 April 2014 as Bishop of Motherwell; he has been Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Motherwell which has been vacant since 31 May 2013.
2.The Diocese opposes three proposals:
I - Shared Campus involving St Stephen s Primary School, Coatbridge
· The Diocese is opposed to NLC s determination to push shared campus schools at every turn. At this rate only 0.8% of Catholic schools in NLC would be discrete building as opposed to 26% non-denom. schools.
II - Shared campus in Airdrie involving the merger of St Dominic s Primary School & St Edward s Primary School and a non-denominational school.
· Diocese was told that this was intended as a merger of 2 Catholic schools and then the Education Convenor announced at committee that a non-denom. school would be added to make it a shared campus.
· There are safety concerns about proposed site for a campus which would have a combined roll of 900 pupils.
·Diocese can see argument for 2 merged schools but not for shared campus.
III - Merger of Taylor HS and Our Lady s HS in Motherwell on Ravenscraig site.
· Figures show inequitable provision. NLC insists that large secondary schools are necessary to provide for curriculum but are content that some non-denominational schools are significantly smaller than Catholic schools. This suggests that non-denominational secondary school provision is being resourced more than Catholic provision. Proposal would leave 3 Catholic secondary schools serving the areas of Bellshill, Motherwell and Wishaw with an average roll of 1230 pupils. Within the same geographical area there are 7 non denominational schools with an average school roll of 670.
· Concerns about Council neglect of rural communities in determination to provide large schools (primary & secondary)
· Very strong concerns have been expressed by parents and others over the proposed location of a school on a contaminated site which will be built to accommodate up to 2150 pupils. This is a matter of grave concern to parents, pupils, the local community and one which the Diocese shares. These concerns need to be fully investigated.
3. It is the policy of the Diocese of Motherwell to support all the Catholic schools which operate within the boundaries of the Diocese. These Catholic schools have a proven record of serving their local communities and meeting the educational, social and pastoral needs of children and young people. The Diocese supports the building and re-development of Catholic schools in discrete buildings where the head teacher is able to manage and operate all aspects of the daily routine of the Catholic school without compromise to ethos, identity and practice.
4. It is clear that, as a result of school planning decisions taken over the last ten years in defiance of the wishes of the Diocese of Motherwell, there are significant concerns about the Council s commitment to support Catholic education appropriately. The Catholic community fears that it is suffering from discrimination due to the Council s determination to impose shared campus schools in every instance where a Catholic primary school comes under review.
5. Compared to some other Councils, North Lanarkshire Council appears to favour the development of very large primary schools at the expense of smaller schools set in local rural communities. Moreover, the Catholic community is seriously concerned by the Council s failure to re-build or refurbish Catholic secondary schools on an equitable basis with non-denominational schools, requiring Catholic secondary schools to have much larger rolls than non-denominational secondary schools.
The Council has built only one discrete Catholic primary school in the past ten years - in Viewpark. This policy in unique in Scotland among all 29 Councils where Catholic schools are provided.
6. If North Lanarkshire Council persists with its policy of building shared campus schools on each occasion where a Catholic school is due to be rebuilt or refurbished, it will result in approximately 26% of non-denominational primary school provision being located in discrete school building, compared with only 0.8% of Catholic primary schools being available as discrete schools. This would clearly demonstrate a grossly inequitable provision of Catholic schools when compared with non-denominational school provision. The trend to systematically remove discrete Catholic schools but to continue to build and refurbish stand-alone non denominational schools suggests indirect discrimination by the Council towards the Catholic community.
7. The Diocese recognises that, at times of financial constraint, it is necessary for Councils to ensure the best use of resources. It acknowledges that, in those cases where the number of Catholic children would not justify a stand-alone Catholic school, shared campus Catholic school provision is preferable to no Catholic school provision being available locally. But the Diocese expects such provision to be the exception rather than the norm. Shared campus schools are not an aspiration of the Church and we question the assertion that they are of educational benefit to either school community involved. Shared campus schools serve economic constraints, not educational benefits.