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
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.”
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.”