When are Catholic schools no longer Catholic? This is the question posed by Sam Adams, news reporter for the Catholic weekly The Tablet, following publication on 23 September 2011 of the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales (CESEW)’s Digest of 2010 Census Data for Schools and Colleges. The digest is available online at:
In statements from Dr Oona Stannard, its Chief Executive and Director, the CESEW has been at pains to emphasize the popularity and diversity of the 2,289 Catholic schools and colleges in England and Wales (10% of the national total), as revealed in the 2010 digest.
For example, the number of students educated in Catholic schools rose from 781,400 in 2009 to 784,800 in 2010, while these schools attracted around 4% more students from ethnic minority backgrounds than did maintained schools as a whole.
However, it seems to be statistics about the Catholicity of Catholic schools which are grabbing the media spotlight and triggering debate within the Catholic community.
Overall, 71% of pupils in maintained Catholic schools in England and Wales in 2010 were Catholic, defined as having been ‘baptised or received into the Catholic Church’.
The figure for Catholic sixth form colleges was only 50% and for Catholic independent schools 41%. The diocesan low was in Plymouth, where 46% of primary and 43% of secondary pupils were Catholics.
Nationally, 19% of maintained Catholic schools had more than one-half non-Catholic pupils in 2010 compared with 14% in 2009. A sign of the times was that, in respect of school uniform policy, 61% of schools made allowances for pupils of other faiths (against just 24% in 2009).
The proportion of teachers in maintained Catholic schools and colleges identifying themselves as Catholics was 56% (against 58% in 2007), falling to 45% in secondary schools, with 43% in Catholic independent schools.
In diocesan terms, the highest number of Catholic teachers was in Liverpool (67%) and the lowest in East Anglia (36%). 18% of teachers in maintained Catholic schools held the Catholic Certificate in Religious Studies. 52% of education support staff in maintained Catholic schools were Catholic (37% in secondary schools alone).
Adams covered the digest in his report on page 35 of The Tablet for 1 October under the headline ‘Non-Catholic pupils continue to swell rolls of church schools’. He posed his question about when Catholic schools cease to be Catholic in The Tablet’s blog for 30 September, which can be found at:
The conclusion Adams reached was: ‘I would argue that it is possible to retain the Catholic ethos of a school even if a significant proportion of pupils are not Catholic, but that there is a limit, or demographic tipping point, when it is simply farcical for that school to continue as “Catholic”’.
‘Oona Stannard of the CES believes the data shows the popularity of Catholic education. Fair enough, but to maintain a truly Catholic culture there needs to be a core community of Catholic pupils and teachers. And if that’s not possible, the school’s leadership and the diocese should face facts and let the school go.’
The longest comment on the blog to date was posted by Tony Spencer of the Pastoral Research Centre on 4 October. He makes the point that the proportion of non-Catholic pupils and non-Catholic teachers at Catholic schools is not a new phenomenon.
According to him, their numbers have been rising for over half a century but the trend has been disguised by ‘spurious’ calculations within the CESEW’s unpublished reports for 1992-2006, which have inflated the computed number of Catholic students at Catholic schools.
Another observation from Spencer, from his reconstruction of the 2009 census of Catholic schools and correlation with the Church’s baptismal data, is that there are now almost enough places for 5-16s in Catholic schools to accommodate all the Catholic pupils in that age group, but that about a third of Catholic parents prefer to send their children to non-Catholic schools, despite the fact that Catholic schools appear to be highly regarded.
Spencer has written at length elsewhere on these and other aspects of Catholic educational policy as reflected in the empirical evidence. See our earlier post at: