Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Faith Schools [RC] #GE2015

Image courtesy of BHA

The Bishops of England and Wales wrote to the Catholic population in February. The two key questions that it asked voters to consider were:
  • How will candidates in your constituency ensure the best outcomes for the poorest children?
  • Will they support parental choice for faith-based education? <source>
I was fortunate enough to attend the TES Education Hustings (watch again <here>) where the faith schools questions was asked. Nicky Morgan said the Tories were very happy with Church of England and Catholic schools, dodging the question about schools of other faiths. Tristram Hunt was fairly non-committal, although it is widely regarded that he is not a fan (look up "nun-gate" on Question Time <here>), but that Labour see them as here to stay. David Laws' answer was the most interesting; he said that despite the Lib Dems traditionally being against faith schools, seeing a great liberty in 'freeing' schools from religion, there is now a view that to be truly liberal, would be to allow faith school as a freedom of choice. 

The Option for the Poor

This is the absolute key foundation for the Catholic school. The definition of poor is ever changing, however just this week, reports have been made about how schools are providing food and uniform for the materially students (see <here>). Concerns from the Catholic community are that the Catholic schools currently make a significant contribution to the provision of education to 'the poor' in England and Wales and that to remove their right to run schools, would damage this provision. It does not, by any means, see itself as the sole provider of this and obviously many community schools make fantastic provision for the poor too. 

Parental Choice

"Catholic schools contribute to the diversity of educational provision which allows parents a genuine choice of schools which will educate their children in accordance with their religious and philosophical convictions. Catholic schools are popular with parents and in many parts of the country there is an increasing demand for places which, in some areas, the Church is struggling to meet." (Source <here>)

If parents decide upon a more secular education for their children, there is adequate provision for that choice.

Historical Justification

The Catholic Church was the first provider of schools and universities in England. During the Reformation this went underground or abroad, but after the Emancipation, the Catholic Church in England decided that education of the poor was the first priority with schools built in many areas before churches, often by hand, out of the pocket of the communities (See more history <here>).

Today many Catholic school buildings are the legacy of the manpower, generosity and sacrifice of the Catholic population or Catholic religious communities. Much of this came before the government prioritised free education for all.

It's easy to dismiss this as mere sentimentality, but many feel the efforts of the Church of England and Catholic community have made such a deeply significant contribution to education, that their right remains to run their own schools.


Traditionally many Catholic schools were in part funded by the Church (10% towards capital funding). However since the Academies project, many Faith Academies are fully funded. This was a governmental decision rather than one of the faith communities. In fact, many Catholic schools were wary of this as it meant they had little control of their budget. One thing that many people forget is that Catholics, and other faith communities, are tax payers too. There are many things I do not agree with my taxes being spent on, however there is a bigger picture that we participate in by being part of a free democracy.

There are also important questions about Church owned land and buildings. Would it be Reformation Part 2 if these were seized by the government and reopened as non-faith schools? (After all - we would need to do find places for all the students!) 

  • There are 2156 Catholic schools in England.
  • Catholic schools make up 10% of the national total of maintained schools.
  • 816,007 pupils are educated in Catholic schools.
  • 70% of pupils at Catholic maintained schools are Catholic
  • 47,986 teachers work in Catholic maintained schools.
  • 54% of teachers in Catholic maintained schools are Catholic.
  • 36% of pupils in Catholic maintained primary schools are from ethnic minority backgrounds (30% nationally).
  • 18% of pupils at Catholic maintained secondary schools live in the most deprived areas (12% nationally). 
  • 83% of Catholic primary schools have Ofsted grades of good or outstanding (81% nationally).
  • At age 11, Catholic schools outperform the national average English and Maths SATs scores by 5%.
  • At GCSE, Catholic schools outperform the national average by 8%.
[Source CES Census 2014 <here>]
Who's a Catholic anyway?

Research such as Linda Woodhead's suggest that perhaps there is a dwindling 'Catholic' population. AS a result, some have suggested that maybe we don't need as many, if any, Catholic schools any more. However despite Mass attendance and adherence to all teachings perhaps being on the decline, 8-10% of the population of Great Britain still describe themselves as “Catholic.”. Interestingly the gap between the Church and British Catholics is widest over issues of sex and personal morality (see <here> for more). A  non-practising Catholic may label themselves as a Cultural Catholic who still wants their children to go to a Catholic school, perhaps to experience the positive education that they did? (For every angry lapsed Catholic, there are plenty more who were happy enough.)

Final Thoughts

This is an argument that can, and will, run and run. There is a good summary on IDEA that I have used with students (see <here>) that covers many of the other points and counter points that many will make. I also know this is a point of massive disagreement between myself and other teachers, and one I doubt we will ever agree on.

Admissions policy will continue to be an issue. Give the government are ignoring the shortage of school places, the faith schools could be made an easy scape goat. I'm not sure what the answer is... a quota? The big questions will revolve around distinctive ethos and inclusivity. 

The Trojan Horse scandal has given evidence to some of the dangers of faith schools, despite NOT being about faith schools! The BHA have been very active in their campaign to close faith schools, even fundraising for an anti-faith school campaigner. There is also debate about what types of faith schools should be allowed; Church of England? Catholic? Muslim? Jewish?

As a Catholic, and someone who sees the value of Catholic Education (there has always been an academic dimension to the Catholic faith that I love), I do not see a robust enough argument to close Catholic schools. Nor do I see a time when any government decides that it is the best decision to try and close them. Just like being taxpayers, we are also voters too!

Oh and go and visit one. Come and visit me. You may be surprised what you find inside a Catholic school...

Videos from the Bishops of England and Wales

Bishop Malcolm McMahon:

First Time Catholic Voters:

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