Church plans education tsar

The Catholic Church is preparing to appoint an education supremo to champion its schools in Scotland.

The move comes just months after some critics argued that Catholic schools could be linked to sectarianism.

The church's response will also involve distributing 250,000 leaflets outlining the importance of Catholic schools.

Everyone attending a Catholic Mass in Scotland is to be given a 'briefing card' spelling out the case for the schools.

The cards will form part of a campaign to flag up the benefits and dispel what the church says are the myths of Catholic education.

The new post of Catholic education service director will then be advertised later this month.

He or she will be responsible for negotiating with the Scottish Executive on everything to do with Catholic schools.

Michael McGrath, the chairman of the Catholic Education Commission and the head teacher at Our Lady's High School in Cumbernauld, said it was time to put forward a positive argument.

Negative trends

"We feel that someone could be heading up discussions with politicians and officials, representing the bishops to try to put forward a strong and a positive case for Catholic education in Scotland because we think it has significant merit," he said.

"It has achieved a great deal in Scotland over many years and sometimes its positive nature has been lost because we have been associated with very negative trends in Scottish society.

"That is unfair, and a director would help us to achieve that more positive agenda."

Last year First Minister Jack McConnell expressed his support for the idea of Catholic and non-denominational schools sharing campuses.

However, this came as the Scottish Executive was concentrating on the need to stamp out sectarianism, and the two issues were linked by several commentators.

Keith Porteous Wood of the Secular Society said: "I am not suggesting that the Catholic schools are teaching sectarianism.

"I think in many ways they are the victims of it.

"But the existence of the schools, I think, perpetuates the cycle of sectarianism."

Education week

Recent attacks on denominational schools are believed to have galvanised support for the new post.

They are also understood to have created the will to provide the funding.

Churchgoers will be asked to contribute to the cost of the appointment during Catholic education week, which runs from 16 to 23 February.

Scottish National Party education spokesman Mike Russell accused Mr McConnell of "a breathtaking lack of sensitivity" for discussing sectarianism in the same breath as Catholic schools.

"The church's decision to pro-actively champion the case for Catholic schools is an understandable and welcome reaction to the unjustified criticism that has come their way in recent months," he said.

"Notwithstanding Catholic schools' first-class educational achievements, they have an exemplary record on tackling sectarianism.

"Those who attempt to blame them for sectarianism simply fail to understand this complex and deep-seated problem."

Tory education spokesman Brian Monteith said that those who argued for the abolition of Catholic schools were "way off the mark".

"Bigotry in Scotland will not be ended by abolishing Roman Catholic schooling - quite the opposite in fact.

"Archbishop Conti is right to suggest that poverty and ignorance are the root causes of sectarianism in Scotland, and closing Roman Catholic schools will make no difference," he said.