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It's not indoctrinating children. It's about putting into practice moral judgements; THE DEMAND FOR A CATHOLIC EDUCATION HAS BEEN GROWING.

Byline: GARETH EVANS

NUMBERS attending Mass may be declining, but the lure of Catholic education has never been stronger.

There are more than 2,300 Catholic schools in England and Wales, educating around 800,000 pupils and employing 40,000 teachers.

In fact, faith schools are enjoying a boom in many European countries and international research suggests their popularity is based on their ability to outperform secular schools.

Last year's papal visit gave the Western world's oldest institution a welcome boost and triggered a celebration of Catholic education in the UK.

Organisers hope a series of events taking place across the academic year will help promote the achievements of its schools.

Dr Martin Price, vice-chairman of the Archdiocese of Cardiff Schools Commission, said Catholic education is often misunderstood. "Our individual schools have a good profile in their communities, but the context in which they operate is less well-known," he said. "Our schools are some of the most successful in Wales and are constantly at the forefront of Assembly Government strategies, whether on academic, well-being or ethical lines. They are non-selective and have a full range of social, ability and ethnic mix."

Catholic schools make up around 5% of all those in Wales, with 15 secondary and 80 primary from Anglesey to Newport.

Schools are voluntary-aided and receive the same revenue funding as any state school.

Their day-to-day running is the same as any other maintained by the local authority, though the church, with contributions from the Catholic community, provides 15% funding for all capital projects.

Dr Price said that with the majority of Catholic schools oversubscribed, governors had to adhere to a strict oversubscription criteria.

"Each Catholic school has its own admissions criteria and there are forms to fill in and register with the local authority," he said.

"Normally, we would look at Catholics local to the area first. Then we would look at children who are members of another Christian denomination and why they have chosen that particular school."

Dr Price said that with a wider catchment area, there are varying numbers of Catholicism in school intake across Wales.

But with Catholic pupils from the Philippines, Eastern Europe and India, schools are well-placed to cater for children of all faiths.

According to Dr Price, an influx of Catholic pupils from overseas has contributed to the rise in demand for its education provision. He said: "There was a point 10 years ago when our schools would have been predominantly white. That's not the case now and immigration has played a part.

"People coming to this country don't realise that our schools are free. In many parts of the world, Catholic education is independent from the state and parents have to pay."

The performance of Catholic schools is traditionally very high, though the advent of a faith-based education is not to everyone's liking.

The National Secular Society opposes what it considers a "disproportionate influence of religion in our education system" and teaching unions have passed votes calling for faith schools to be abolished.

Dr Price vehemently opposed suggestions that Catholic schools "indoctrinate" their children.

"It's not about indoctrinating children in church doctrine. It's about putting into practice moral judgements," he said.

"All schools will try and implicate moral values and it's to do with ethos and trying to live out the faith. We explain the position the church takes on things."

Religious education accounts for around 10% of lesson time and is part of the core curriculum in Catholic schools, with English, Welsh, maths and science.

But a greater focus on RE by no means detracts from other subject areas. A study compiled by the Catholic Education Service showed that in every category assessed, Catholic schools achieved better results than the average for all state-funded institutions.

Inspectors judged 79% of Catholic secondary schools to be "good" or "outstanding" overall, compared to an average of 64% for all secondaries nationally.

Among Catholic primaries, 79% were rated good or outstanding, higher than the average of 68% across the country.

Standards of classroom discipline and moral development among pupils were also far better in Catholic education, with fewer exclusions than in typical state schools.

Anne Robertson, diocesan director of schools in Cardiff, said: "We're not perfect and have issues like everyone else, but the overall picture is quite good.

"The Catholic Church is all about forgiveness and our schools try very hard to see how they can work with certain individuals.

"It's not just the academic standards but often the pastoral care that's important. We see that as fundamental to what we're trying to do."

As co-ordinator of schools in the Cardiff Archdiocese, Ms Robertson is charged with meeting demand for Catholic education in 10 local authorities, including Blaenau Gwent and Monmouthshire. "To build a new secondary school would cost at least pounds 20m and the Archdioceses would have to find around pounds 3m of that. So we may need to consider other options such as expansion on existing sites."

Looking to the future, the Cath-olic Church is hoping to build on the successful visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK and make policy makers in Cardiff Bay more aware of its work in the community.

Dr Price said: "On a local level we're very good, but from a national level we need to let [Education Minister] Leighton Andrews know we exist.

"We need to be blowing our own trumpet that we're doing things right and we want to influence Assembly thinking.

"There's a lack of understanding about what we do and that's partly our fault because we haven't told them," he added.

A celebration of Catholic education takes place at the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay on March 24

CAPTION(S):

Dr Martin Price, vice-chairman of the Archdiocese of Cardiff Schools Commission, at St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School, Barry, one of 15 Catholic secondary schools in Wales
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 10, 2011
Words:976
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