Time for Church and Council to take their hands off Renton

Education … education … education … it’s one of the most important thing in the world, the priority of governments across the globe.

An education system fit for purpose is so hard to achieve. It is such a difficult thing to get right.

The Scottish aid charity Mary’s Meals are convinced that the food they bring to children in the poorest, most devastated and deprived corners of the earth sustains them for their studies.

It is food, not just food for the body but food for the mind. Without proper sustenance schoolchildren lack the energy to pay attention to their teachers and concentrate in the classroom.

Without an educated population no country will ever become an economic success. It will never attract industry and commerce. No town will ever become prosperous.

Bright children with a good education is what companies are looking for when they set out to establish their factories and digital hubs in the silicon world of the 21st century.

Good exam results mean proficiency in basic reading, writing and arithmetic – and the ability to put a few words together in a letter or a document.

These skills are in great demand in local government, where even education department documents are produced by grammatically challenged personnel who claim to be well-educated.

There is one school which has recently shown it is capable of producing well-educated children here in West Dunbartonshire.

It is called St Martin’s Primary School in the village of Renton on the banks of the River Leven.

It has become a great wee school almost by accident because of the dwindling number of pupils on its role.

Education department officials, conveners and councillors can take no credit at all for this. It was never in their expensively produced plans.

The exam results in St Martin’s are exceptional, remarkable even, and it is unlikely they would be reproduced if these pupils were sent to a bigger school.

A bigger school would mean larger class sizes and a very different pupil-teacher ratio.

Teachers would not have the same amount of time to devote to encouraging and educating pupils.

Do you get my drift? It’s not rocket science. When it comes to schools bigger isn’t better.

Renton has always been deprived – and the injudicious actions of government and local government down through the years have contributed to keeping it that way.

That is, of course, if you believe that a village library with books to stretch your mind and a community centre in which to stretch your limbs and converse with friends are beneficial to people’s wellbeing.

Both were closed by local councils – Labour councils.

It is an old saying that God helps those who help themselves.

The community in Renton has stepped up to the plate and made Renton the emerging, vibrant community it is today.

SNP education convener Karen Conaghan said this week though that pupil numbers in the Vale of Leven did not justify a new Catholic school there.

Ellen McBride, the Catholic Church’s representative on the committee, agreed and said the project would not be a wise financial investment for the Council.

The Catholic Church had a new policy, she said, of wanting to see their children educated in bigger schools.

Now, if God really does help those who help themselves, then one would have thought that Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, who promulgates the “big is better” philosophy, would have visited Renton to persuade anxious parents that this was a fact.

That it would benefit their children to be taken out of their high achieving wee school and made to walk or take the bus to another, bigger school which none of them wanted to attend.

The fact that the school in question, St Mary’s in Bank Street, was a century old and which not so long ago was officially declared unfit for purpose, was using a hut for a dinner hall and had no wheelchair facilities for disabled children seems not to be relevant.

The pupils of St Martin’s, where there had been a Catholic school for 118 years, would be better off being taught in Alexandria, the prelate told the education committee through his emissary, Miss McBride.

The parents were not pleased to the extent that they had some unkind words to express loudly about Miss McBride and Archbishop Tartaglia.

Observers were not really surprised at this since this deal looked like a stitch up from the outset, possibly even back to the second rate deal the Church did with the Council on the re-siting of Our Lady and St Patrick’s in Bellsmyre.

The opposition Labour leader on the council, Martin Rooney, said the committee decision to “kick the issue into the long grass” for two further years and consult again after that meant that St Martin’s would definitely close.

There was no way they could meet the criteria the Council was searching for which was to increase the numbers at St Martin’s.

“The parents would never choose to send their children to a school whose future was uncertain,” he said.

How this move suits the Church is difficult to comprehend since primary schools and Catholic churches have always been inextricably linked.

The Church has always viewed them as an essential tool for the formation of young people in the faith.

It was the first and foremost reason why Catholics, led by Monsignor Hugh Kelly from Dumbarton, fought so hard to get their own schools.

Many of us now think that segregated schools are past their sell-by date, and that joint campuses with non-denominational schools are a welcome stepping stone towards integration.

The Catholic parents of Renton would have been in agreement for such a thing to happen in their village.

Non-denominational parents would have gone along with this too so long as the deal did not accommodate the petty insistence of the Catholic Church that children should enter and leave the school by different gates designated on the basis of religion.

Leave Renton alone. It’s time the Church listened to the People of God and the Council listened to the electorate?

Bill Heaney



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