‘England’s faith state schools are on average failing to mirror their local communities by shunning the poorest pupils in their area, an analysis by The Guardian of the latest government figures shows’, Simon Rogers wrote on the newspaper’s datablog on 5 March 2012.
‘The Roman Catholic Church, which has repeatedly insisted that its schools are “inclusive”, comes out as particularly unrepresentative of the local communities it serves. Three-quarters of Catholic primary and secondary schools have a more affluent mix of pupils than their local area … The same is the case for Church of England primary and secondary schools.’ Non-religious schools, by contrast, tended to reflect their neighbourhoods.
The findings, which cover 16,781 primary and 2,753 secondary schools (excluding special needs schools), ‘will fuel claims that faith schools have been picking pupils from well-off families by selecting on the basis of religion’.
These conclusions derive from a database created by The Guardian by merging, at both local authority and postcode levels, elements of two datasets published by the Department for Education: a criterion of inclusivity (pupil eligibility for free school meals, a key measure of poverty) extracted from the Department’s spending database; and address and school type derived from the ‘spine’ (the Department’s official list of schools). Analysis focused on a comparison of Anglican, Catholic and non-religious schools (there being too few state schools of other denominations or faiths).
As Rogers notes, the research does pose certain methodological challenges, which will doubtless be picked up by proponents of faith schools in the coming days. In particular, ‘one big area of disagreement is whether you take the postcodes for where pupils actually live, or you do what we did, which is to compare each school to all the schools in their area. We decided to go for the latter as we wanted to see how each school compares to its peers in the area.’
We can probably expect both Anglicans and Roman Catholics to come out of the corner fighting on the issue. Only recently, as noted by BRIN, the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales has trumpeted (drawing on data from a Department for Education study in 2009-10) that a higher proportion of pupils at its schools come from the 10% most deprived areas than those attending English schools as a whole. See:
The Guardian’s datablog, with further commentary and access to the full database, can be found at:
An article about the research, by Jessica Shepherd and Rogers, was also published in The Guardian of 6 March 2012, including reactions from Anglican and Catholic spokespersons and the British Humanist Association. This is at: