Sunday, December 22, 2013

Proportion of Catholics in Welsh Catholic schools falls sharply

The number of Catholics attending Welsh Catholic schools has suffered a marked decline over the last six years, with experts citing falling Mass attendance and proposals to cut transport to faith schools as factors behind the fall. 

Figures released last week by the Catholic Education Service showed that since 2007 the proportion of Catholics declined from 66.6 per cent to 57.9 per cent and while the decrease was spread across all school levels from primaries to sixth form colleges it was much more substantial in the secondary sector.

The CES’ 2013 school census found that in January just over half of pupils – 53.7 per cent - in secondary schools were Catholics, which was a two-and-a-half per cent drop from last year.

Paul Barber, the Director of the Catholic Education Service, said in the report: “Analysis by year group suggests that the decrease is likely to continue and in the secondary phase even to accelerate over the next five years.”

Anne Robertson, Director of Schools for the Cardiff Archdiocese, said pupils would sometimes go to the nearest school rather than the nearest Catholic school because of policy changes by local education authorities which threaten free school bus travel for pupils attending Catholic secondaries, which traditionally have a wider catchment area than maintained schools.

Mrs Robertson suspects that some parents may be choosing Catholic schools in adjoining local authority areas that still have their own sixth form. Some schools including one Catholic secondary in Merthyr Tydfil have had their sixth forms replaced by a non denominational stand-alone sixth form college.

But she added: “A reduction in the number of Mass-goers is bound to have a knock-on effect on the numbers attending Catholic schools.” 

But she said people across the archdiocese were looking at ways to address the decline in Mass-going.

Eugene Scourfield, headteacher of St Joseph’s secondary school in Port Talbot, which is within a local authority that has decided to withdraw the transport subsidy to children travelling more than two or three miles to school, said the decision was likely to affect numbers in Catholic schools and would disenfranchise poorer children.

Welsh commentator Harri Pritchard Jones added: “Very many, if not most, Welsh-speaking Catholics send their children to Welsh-medium schools, which have a Christian ethos, but not a Catholic one. This was sanctioned or at least accepted by the bishops. I’m afraid that one factor is the sad decline in religion in Wales.”

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