The Catholic Education Service of England and Wales (CESEW) has urged the Government to consider a new model of academy school that would be part-funded by Catholics, it emerged this week.
Under the current system the Church pays 10 per cent of the capital costs of its schools. If they become academies, they will be funded entirely by the state.
Officials fear that the Catholic education sector could lose its independence if it stops paying the 10 per cent portion of costs.
The negotiation between the CESEW and the Government comes as new figures show that Catholic schools perform better than other state-funded schools on all Ofsted criteria.
Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham, chairman of the CESEW, said Catholic schools were a “very good use of taxpayers’ money” and were well liked by parents.
He said criticism of faith schools came from “small but noisy” lobby groups who receive “more publicity than their numbers deserve”. The bishop said: “When you ask parents, they want their children to go to Catholic schools.”
Bishop McMahon said the Government’s academy reform had to be considered carefully.
He said: “We have a system which does cost us a bit of money and for that we get a lot of rights. If someone says to us, ‘you don’t have to pay that any more, but [everything] will be the same’, we kind of wonder. So we have to negotiate every item carefully.
“We feel if we can carry with us that package that has served us so well now for more than 60 years that would be the best option,” the bishop said.
The voluntary-aided state school system – under which the Catholic Church pays a portion of the capital costs of its schools – was established in the Education Act 1944.
One crucial right that officials fear may be lost is the right of Catholic schools to select pupils and senior staff on the basis of their faith.
Oona Stannard, director and chief executive of the CESEW, sent a letter to Education Secretary Michael Gove last month asking him to consider a voluntary-aided academy model.
She confirmed this week that the model was being “seriously considered” by the Government.
Once the CESEW has negotiated with the Government it is up to each bishop to decide whether Catholic schools in his diocese ought to become academies.
It is likely that some bishops will accept the offer while others opt out.
Bishop McMahon said he did not expect any clashes between bishops and individual schools as the decision would be made collectively, in consultation with school governors.
Last month Catholic education officials across England and Wales met to discuss whether to take up the Government’s offer.
One key proposal was that a network of schools in a diocese could become academies en masse, under a single academy trust. It was felt this would preserve the idea of a family of Catholic schools.
This week Bishop McMahon and Dr Stannard presented the findings of a report called Value Added: the Distinctive Contribution of Catholic Schools and Colleges in England.
According to the report, Ofsted judged 73 per cent of Catholic secondary schools to be good or outstanding compared to 60 per cent of schools nationally. For primary schools, 74 per cent of Catholic schools were judged outstanding or good compared to 66 per cent nationally.
Dr Stannard said the report showed that high standards were “not a flash in the pan but carefully sustained and nurtured over time.”
She said it demonstrated that Catholic schools achieved excellent exam results but also offered a high standard of moral and spiritual development for their pupils.
Peter Irvine, author of the report and a former schools inspector, said: “It is quite striking and surprising that on every single criterion from five to 16, Catholic schools came out more strongly.”