Story by Lara Pickford-Gordon
An analysis by Nigel Henry, Lead Analyst CEO of Solution by Simulation on leaked information on placement for Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) has sparked debate about how the principals of denominational schools allocate the 20 per cent of places retained by the Boards under the Concordat.
Henry’s analysis published in the Sunday Express June 30 headlined ‘Leaked results reveal how students are placed’ was based on a 2018 database of the SEA results which showed names, scores, and schools of choice for each student. The information was made public in an unprotected publicly accessible cloud location.
Harilal Seecharan, the Chief Education Officer at the Ministry of Education at a July 4 press briefing described Henry’s data as “totally erroneous” and the assertions made “fundamentally flawed”. He stated neither the author nor publisher attempted to verify the information before it was publicised.
Henry’s report renewed the calls for ‘The Concordat of 1960-Assurances for the Preservation and Character of Denominational Schools’ to be amended. The “20 per cent” is perceived as depriving deserving children from places at the “prestige schools” while favouring the well-to-do.
In a column March 12, 2003 former Newsday columnist George Alleyne stated taxpayer’s money should not be used to fund privilege.
The Concordat contains nine clauses. The 20 per cent is mentioned in clause five.
It states: “The existing relationship between Government and the Governing Bodies and teachers in Assisted Secondary Schools will remain subject however, to negotiated changes inevitable with the introduction of Free Secondary Education and to a system of inspection of these schools by persons authorized to do so by the Ministry of Education and Culture.
The Governing Bodies of these schools will continue to be responsible for the administration of these schools and for their maintenance, repair and furnishing. Those schools will continue to qualify for Government Aid.
The Principals of Assisted Secondary Schools will make available a minimum of 80 per centum of the First Form entry places to those who, by passing the test, qualify on the results of the Common Entrance Examination for free secondary education…. The Principals will be free to allocate up to 20 per centum, the remaining places as they see fit provided normally that the pass list of the Common Entrance Examination serves to provide the pupils. Entry above the First Form will be under the control of the Ministry of Education and Culture and will require the approval of the Minister”.
In an interview on July 12, the Chief Executive Officer of the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM), Sharon Mangroo said there is a public misconception about the Concordat as simply an arrangement to allow Board schools to select 20 per cent of students for secondary places.
She said: “It is an agreement between two parties; initially it was between the Catholic Church and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago but after that all of the boards came on board and it is an agreement for the use of private property, private property owned by the boards, on which the schools are built.”
The Concordat was approved by the Cabinet December 22, 1960. The following year school fees were abolished and entry into Government and Assisted Secondary Schools was based on the Common Entrance exam.
Mangroo said the Minister of Education is responsible for providing sufficient school places for children of compulsory school age regardless of race, religion but because the government does not have sufficient places, the ministry joined with denominational boards to use their private property to make them available.
The Boards “were guaranteed the right to retain the denominational character of the school”. She added, “The board gives the government 80 per cent of the places for their use and retains 20 per cent.”
The argument has been advanced that since the government pays the teachers and provides funding to the Government Assisted schools, the 20 per cent should be abolished.
Catholic ethos in schools
Mangroo said providing staff and the learning environment were part of the minister’s responsibility and he has been doing this. Mangroo said the boards of Catholic schools also expend “a good bit of funds” on maintenance of their schools and get assistance through various fundraisers to improve facilities at schools.
The T&T Constitution guarantees the right to enjoyment of property, she commented, “for Catholic schools the original intention of the property is to disseminate faith, to teach children according to the values and beliefs the Catholic Church holds, not necessarily to make them Catholic but to teach in accordance with the values and beliefs and this can only be done if we have some Catholic children in the school so to maintain the Catholic character.”
She cited the obligation under Canon Law for parents to provide a Catholic education for their children, “so the Church has to be able to take care of its children”.
To be considered for the 20 per cent, the child must come from a family of practising Catholics. Mangroo said the Church has a preferential option for the poor in selecting the 20 per cent.
The CEBM is in charge of six secondary schools: Presentation College Chaguanas and San Fernando, St Benedict’s College, St Francis College formerly Belmont Boys’ Secondary, Matelot Community College and the private St Joseph’s College. Mangroo said an attempt is made to select a few students who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to go to these schools.
She said there were other questions which had to be asked, like why are so many children vying for a few schools. She said government has built schools so there were more secondary schools available in the country and many persons have graduated from them and gone on to further success.
Mangroo said the curriculum offerings at the government schools were varied, “there is something for every child”. She explained, “In the traditional so-called prestige schools the ones people try and get their children into, those are grammar type schools and there are some children whose interests will be served by a grammar type school but there are children who are far more interested, let’s say in the arts –the arts are offered in a limited way in grammar type schools”. Parents are choosing “traditional” schools based on what they are familiar with.
“What we need to start looking at is what is my child interested in; what is my child capable of; what is the learning environment that is best for my child,” Mangroo said.
Can the Catholic character of RC secondary schools be preserved with 20 per cent plus the Catholic children among the eighty per cent placed? The CEBM in a document on the Concordat a few years ago suggested that it was difficult to preserve the Catholic character of schools and proposed an increase to 50 per cent.