> independent schools, catholic schools

Here, we don't have the same anxiety about the separation between church and state and (as discussed, elsewhere) have a lower proportion of the population who describe themselves as religious.

There are a relatively small number of independent (ie fully private) Roman Catholic schools in the UK (88 RC, cf 524 CofE out of 1271 listed [url]www.iscis.uk.net/[url]). The rest come under the banner of the state system and have to subscribe to the same National Curriculum and school inspection system as other state schools.

In England the vast majority of state-supported Roman Catholic are "voluntary aided schools", like Church of England Schools, as the state pays broadly 100% of tuition costs, 85% of external building costs. In Scotland, I think, they are fully funded.

I think that times have moved on from the "Anglela's Ashes" days of a few sadistic nuns venting their dislike of the human race on their charges. I did come across a couple of those as a schoolgirl but as post "swinging sixties" children we found them faintly anachronistic and paid them little attention. Discussions on morality and religion were wide ranging and we were encouraged to say what we thought.

In recent years, we moved around the country and I have experience of several Catholic schools. What I saw were schools with children drawn from all demoninations teaching a curriculum which left very little time for the specifics of Catholicism in a religious curriculum which was broadly Christian but included project work on all belief systems. In one English school, in particular, I remember that aspects of religious pratice had to be taught outside school time in church, not school, premises (eg preparation for First Communion). Some schools shared a sixth form (for pupils aged 17/18) with a neighbouring Church of England Schools. I had no experience of the schools operating to a different agenda than mainstream schools, they were no less racially mixed, for example. The main difference was that all parents subscribed to the view that good behaviour in school is important. This is not universal, I understand from some teacher friends that some parents give very little support on behavioural matters and that this is one of the reasons that RC and CofE schools in middle class areas tend to be over-subscribed.

I suppose the main argument against religious schools arises from the creation of a sectarian society as exists in Northern Ireland and parts of the West of Scotland. I had no personal experience of this, growing up in the North West of England, we mixed freely with children from other kinds of schools without being aware of any cultural divide. I was appalled by a recent television programme where people from both sides of the "troubles" in Northern Ireland were sent away together on a team-building week. It was the first time that some of them had made a relationship with someone from the "other side" and the first time that they were able to listen to another point of view without it coming second hand. They were amazed to discover the depth of their own lack of understanding of another point of view, which makes me wonder what on earth they are teaching in schools and churches. This seems incredably sad and must be addressed.

So, on the subject of church schools, the jury is still out for me. My personal experience of happy schools with happy non-judgemental children seems at odds with the experience in other parts of the world.

Does anyone have recent experience of RC schools in the USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand?