Plea for realism

PUBLISHED: 14:32 25 May 2006 | UPDATED: 10:14 06 May 2010

SIR – I would refer to your article last week concerning the situation following notification of the County Plan to charge for transport for children attending faith schools with effect from September 2007, in particular the comments and concerns expresse

SIR - I would refer to your article last week concerning the situation following notification of the County Plan to charge for transport for children attending faith schools with effect from September 2007, in particular the comments and concerns expressed by the headteachers of the John Henry Newman School and St Thomas More School.

I have felt a sense of déjà vu because I can remember this problem arising 30 years ago when a similar plan was mooted. This was raised again, I believe, around 1987 but thankfully the authorities on both occasions saw that to bring in such charges would have a very detrimental effect, mostly on families who through such a step would no longer have the option of sending their children to the school of their faith, which to them was of paramount importance.

The 1944 Education Act (which was later replaced by the 1966 Act) was aimed at restructuring the education system following the disruption and trauma of World War II. It established the principle for free education for all, the benefits of which we must be truly thankful for. In present day Britain we have some wonderful schools - indeed the comprehensive system has meant that schools have opened their doors to children of all abilities, giving them the chance to make something of their lives and future through learning.

However, within this lie the many diverse needs of individual youngsters - physical, spiritual, intellectual etc. The Act recognised the overwhelming need for some schools to meet the faith needs of the children. Ultimately the religious organisations rallied to help with building and finance. Indeed the law says that the principle of parental choice in such things is paramount and in the case of our faith schools parents are entitled to choose the school which can continue to support them and their children in their spiritual and academic education.

I am now most concerned that the good relationship between the county authority and faith schools - my own experience being within the Catholic sector - is in great danger of being eroded irrevocably. They say £3.4m will be saved - I would suggest this is just a paper exercise and that any saving in real terms is negligible in the present day and to re-distribute it in other areas (hopefully education!) would mean a drop in the ocean without any tangible results.

Our children, whatever faith or no faith, are vital to our future. With a good, all round education which can meet their individual needs, we hope and trust they will grow up decent citizens and put something back into the community as well as the local economy.

In an ideal world we would all have funds to meet costs like transport without a murmur but this is a real world. Making ends meet can be hard, sometimes a struggle. I would ask that the County remember they are dealing with a vulnerable section of society, the children and adults of the future.

Make your cuts County, but please be realistic. I feel sure there is a way around this without damaging relationships with parents, schools, churches and the leaders of all faiths whose duty and human rights are closely linked.

ENA BOYLETT

Wheat Hill

Letchworth GC

SIR - I am writing with reference to the proposal to cease the provision of free transportation to faith schools.

I wish to express my deepest disappointment that the ending of school transportation is being proposed.

My children currently attend St Thomas More School which is a Roman Catholic school, the only one of its type in Letchworth. I plan to send them to John Henry Newman School in Stevenage, as once again, this is the nearest of its kind in Hertfordshire. In order to attend this school, my children will need to travel on some form of transportation.

I feel very strongly that my children should be educated within their faith. I went to John Henry Newman School and feel that the religious education aspect is essential for moral development. However, if the proposals are passed, this will have serious financial implications on our family income and may result in the necessity to educate my children at local non-faith schools. Unfortunately with the closure of the two main schools in Letchworth, namely Norton and Willian, there does not leave much choice. With growing student numbers for limited school places, I fear for my children's education and wonder where they will end up receiving schooling.

Sadly, this will be the case for many Catholic families who may not have the financial means to send their children to the John Henry Newman School.

Since my children have attended St Thomas More School, I was surprised to learn how much the school supports itself - we currently pay for a percentage of the physical improvements to the school and have a good fundraising network in order to provide for ourselves as best we can. This is also the case in John Henry Newman. As such, the faith schools have already saved Hertfordshire County Council huge amounts of money in grants alone. It would be a travesty to see all this money wasted with the forced closure of Catholic schools due to dwindling numbers of families being able to afford to send their children there.

St Thomas More School has just received a glowing report from the Ofsted committee and has been classified as 'outstanding'. Similarly the John Henry Newman School has received various awards for the success of staff and pupils. It would certainly be a shame should the brilliance of these schools be foregone due to the imposition of fees.

The Catholic community depends on a favourable outcome to this proposal.

HAYLEY HUCKLE

Common View

Letchworth GC

SIR - In your article of last week, you quoted Hertfordshire County Council as saying they were seeking to remove free faith school transport so as to adopt a policy that is fair to all pupils across the county. This implies that the provision of free transport for those pupils attending faith schools is granting such pupils an unfair advantage over their peers attending other county schools. This is simply not the case and is a gross misrepresentation of the truth.

The agreement to provide free transport goes back over many years and forms part of a wide ranging agreement that also places obligations on faith schools that mitigate their funding costs by local government. For example, many faith schools are owned by their respective churches and they contribute 10 per cent towards the cost of maintenance of these buildings, either directly or through the fundraising activities of parents. No reference has been made to this fact in the consultation literature issued by Herts CC which seems determined to represent only one side of the equation.

Faith schools within Hertfordshire and faith schools in general, are recognised as being high achieving schools. This is, in my opinion, a reflection of the ethos at work in these schools. Surely, by removing free transport, the effect must be to make it virtually impossible for children of poorer families to attend their faith school of choice and these schools will then be forced to either close or to open their doors to children of no faith whose family do not share in the ethos or aspirations of the school, ultimately resulting in a decline in standards. It is hard to escape the conclusion that, instead of recognising excellence and seeking to encourage it elsewhere, Hertfordshire County Council is intent on bringing down standards to the lowest level.

The right to attend a faith school of choice is enshrined in the 1944 Education Act and further supported by the Human Rights Act of 1998. By proposing to undermine that choice by the introduction of prohibitive transport costs is quite simply wrong. Hertfordshire County Council would do well to drop these proposals and instead focus its attention on the means of implanting the excellent standards found in faith schools into other, less successful schools.

F J NUTTALL

Souberie Avenue

Letchworth GC

Parent of Catholic children at

John Henry Newman RC School


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