Roman Catholic Schools in England and Wales

As we noted three months ago (, the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales (CESEW) has sometimes been accused of excessive secrecy in guarding its statistical data.

This is notwithstanding the fact that Roman Catholic schools account for about one in ten of all maintained school places in England and Wales and receive 100% of their running costs and 90% of their capital funding from the state.

However, the CESEW has started the New Year on the front foot by releasing on 10 January two new quantitatively rich 40-page reports which, it is claimed, ‘demonstrate that Catholic schools are rated consistently better than other schools’ and ‘show just how well taxpayers’ money is spent when it is channelled into Catholic schools.’

This assessment seems likely to fan the flames of the often acrimonious debate about the principle and practice of faith schools, especially since the CESEW’s chairman (Malcolm McMahon, Bishop of Nottingham) has taken the opportunity of the new publications to attack the National Secular Society, teachers’ leaders and their ‘friends in Parliament’ who are campaigning for the abolition of faith schools.

The first document is the Digest of 2009 Census Data for Schools and Colleges, only the third in the series (the others being for 2007 and 2008), although the tradition of conducting an annual census of Catholic schools, teachers and pupils dates back to 1959. 94% of the Catholic schools in England and Wales made a return in 2009.

80% of the 2,289 Catholic schools in England and Wales in 2009 were primary, 17% secondary, 1% tertiary, and 2% all through. 94% were maintained and 6% independent. 96% were in England and 4% in Wales. Diocesan totals ranged from 18 in Wrexham to 252 in Birmingham.

74% of the 736,000 pupils in maintained Catholic schools and colleges were Catholic, falling to 65% in Wales, but only 41% of the 41,000 pupils in independent Catholic schools were Catholic. Proportions of Catholic teachers were lower: 57% of 44,000 in maintained schools and 40% of 5,000 in independent schools.

Pupil intakes appeared socially quite diverse. ‘The data shows that Catholic schools have similar proportions of children eligible for free school meals as schools nationally have, and are more ethnically mixed than schools nationally’.

The second report is entitled Value Added: the Distinctive Contribution of Catholic Schools and Colleges in England and has been written by Peter Irvine, retired HMI and education consultant. The data derive from Ofsted inspections in 2005-09 and test and examination results for Key Stages 1-5 in 2007-09.

Findings particularly highlighted by CESEW in its press release include the following (others may be picked up from the executive summary on pp. 6-8):

  • ‘In terms of overall effectiveness, Ofsted judged 73% of Catholic secondary schools to be outstanding or good, compared to 60% of schools nationally. For primary schools, 74% of Catholic schools were judged outstanding or good compared to 66% nationally.
  • In terms of the contextual value added measure, 58% of Catholic secondary schools had above average scores, compared to 39% of schools nationally.
  • The proportion of pupils gaining level 4 or above in Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) at age 11 was consistently around 5% higher in Catholic schools than in schools nationally.
  • At GCSE level, the proportion of students obtaining 5 or more GCSEs at A*-C (including English and Maths) was consistently at least 6% higher in Catholic schools than in schools nationally.’

The two reports, with accompanying press release, can be downloaded from:

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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