Byline: GARETH EVANS
NUMBERS attending Mass may be declining, but the lure of Catholic education has never been stronger.
There are more than 2,300 Catholic schools in England and Wales, educating around 800,000 pupils and employing 40,000 teachers.
In fact, faith schools are enjoying a boom in many European countries and international research suggests their popularity is based on their ability to outperform secular schools.
Last year's papal visit gave the Western world's oldest institution a welcome boost and triggered a celebration of Catholic education in the UK.
Organisers hope a series of events taking place across the academic year will help promote the achievements of its schools.
Dr Martin Price, vice-chairman of the Archdiocese of Cardiff Schools Commission, said Catholic education is often misunderstood. "Our individual schools have a good profile in their communities, but the context in which they operate is less well-known," he said. "Our schools are some of the most successful in Wales and are constantly at the forefront of Assembly Government strategies, whether on academic, well-being or ethical lines. They are non-selective and have a full range of social, ability and ethnic mix."
Catholic schools make up around 5% of all those in Wales, with 15 secondary and 80 primary from Anglesey to Newport.
Schools are voluntary-aided and receive the same revenue funding as any state school.
Their day-to-day running is the same as any other maintained by the local authority, though the church, with contributions from the Catholic community, provides 15% funding for all capital projects.
Dr Price said that with the majority of Catholic schools oversubscribed, governors had to adhere to a strict oversubscription criteria.
"Each Catholic school has its own admissions criteria and there are forms to fill in and register with the local authority," he said.
"Normally, we would look at Catholics local to the area first. Then we would look at children who are members of another Christian denomination and why they have chosen that particular school."
Dr Price said that with a wider catchment area, there are varying numbers of Catholicism in school intake across Wales.
But with Catholic pupils from the Philippines, Eastern Europe and India, schools are well-placed to cater for children of all faiths.
According to Dr Price, an influx of Catholic pupils from overseas has contributed to the rise in demand for its education provision. He said: "There was a point 10 years ago when our schools would have been predominantly white. That's not the case now and immigration has played a part.
"People coming to this country don't realise that our schools are free. In many parts of the world, Catholic education is independent from the state and parents have to pay."
The performance of Catholic schools is traditionally very high, though the advent of a faith-based education is not to everyone's liking.
The National Secular Society opposes what it considers a "disproportionate influence of religion in our education system" and teaching unions have passed votes calling for faith schools to be abolished. …