Thursday, June 28, 2007

'Church is holding council to ransom'

THE Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds has been accused of holding Calderdale Council to ransom by threatening to take over Park Lane High School.

In a letter to politicians and headteachers, chairman of the governors Garry Stringfellow said the move by Bishop Arthur Roche (pictured) was deeply worrying and created huge uncertainty.

"Our inevitable interpretation is that the Catholic Diocese is content to bring about the demise of our community and all we have achieved in recent years and, to a large extent, is holding the local authority to ransom. We understand at this stage no decisions have been made but it leads us to believe that our future is under very real threat," said Mr Stringfellow.

The Courier broke the news on May 18 that the Leeds Diocese wanted to take over the school at Exley as part of a plan to reorganise secondary education in north Halifax. It is believed this would enable the school to attract more Roman Catholic pupils from the Huddersfield area. The Bishop's representatives, the Park Lane High School governors and the council initially refused to comment on the proposal.

But in his letter, Mr Stringfellow now says the governors are appalled at the possibility of St Catherine's Catholic High, classed by Ofsted as failing, moving into Park Lane – a school on the up."It would mean children in south Halifax having to travel significant distances to access education. This is morally wrong."

Park Lane governor Chris O'Connor said: "We feel we are being trampled over and used to solve problems in another part of Halifax."

In May Bishop Roche urged Roman Catholics to speak out against St Catherine's merging with The Ridings at Ovenden.

"Attempts to do away with schools of a religious character undermine faith and certainly does not help to promote harmony and community cohesion," said the Bishop.

The council's education spokesman Coun Craig Whittaker said the suggestion by the diocese was still being explored.

"There are many other options we could offer the Leeds Diocese that would not involve going to Park Lane," he said.

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