When Jemima began school I was thrilled to discover that transport from Pembury was provided. Thus for the last three years she has jumped onto the Catholic bus that meanders through Kent villages and drops off at both the Catholic Primary and Secondary School. An Anglican bus ran alongside it for the same purpose dropping off at the Anglican secondary school.
These buses ran – until this year- because law stipulated that where a child lives a certain distance away from their nearest appropriate school then assistance must be given. A sensible provision that proved a great help to generations of faith school children.
But when Benedict applied this year his application was turned down. The reason being that policy has changed so that faith is no longer taken into account. A blow to faith schools the nation over. The head teacher of our local secondary school informing me of the sudden loss of many pupils affected by this change. Those whose families are unable to drive them in due to work commitments and who cannot afford to spend hundreds of pounds a year on transport.
So I decided to appeal the decision. Not with a personal interest so much as a broader interest. On what grounds was this being defended? Did those in authority really think that the local village school was most appropriate for Benedict given his Catholic faith? The question I have is really very simple. How can the local Catholic school not be the “appropriate” school for local Catholic children…who else do they imagine Catholic schools exist for?
The panel I faced was four strong comprised of councillors. They soon realised I was less interested in pleading Benedict’s specific case than seeking joined up thinking regarding all faith school provision. And though they were helpful in explaining process – the key question remained unanswered. Apparently it boils down to money. Which is hard to swallow when a recent KCC employee walked away with a £460,000 pay off after less than two years work. That would have funded our lovely bus for a century and more!
Then another possible agenda reared its head as a councillor stated firmly that, despite her own Anglican convictions, KCC’s education office is secular. I asked her when the constitution of Great Britain had changed? Does KCC not serve the realm? A realm imagined was still Christian in fact if not in practice. This led to another awkward pause. I then asked the panel to consider how England once flourished when faith was at the heart of its educational policy. Oxford and Cambridge being Christian foundations alongside the entire University system and most public schools. At this point I was kindly asked to stop preaching! Fair enough….
But what do we make of the sudden removal of travel assistance to faith children? Is this simply a financial move or is the creeping secular agenda behind this nationwide shift? What is the point of faith schools if not to help members of that faith make use of them? Do you know if this is being tackled by our bishops at the higher level? Do you agree with me it must be? For I fear secular forces are moving towards our schools and if we do not robustly defend our rights as Christians then we could well lose them.
As to the appeal. A victory of sorts. Benny can utilise the spare seat in the reduced taxi service until a more deserving applicant arrives or the service is axed altogether. (It remains for those granted help under the old policy) This is certainly helpful to the family, and it ends the daft scenario whereby I was expected to follow the half empty taxi Jemima was in to get Benny to the same destination! But not a victory for the point being raised. My children are assured a Catholic education- it is those on the fringes I am concerned about. What can be done to help faith schools provide for faith families?