Is the Catholic Education Service statistically illiterate?

The Catholic Education Service (CES) has a long history of abusing statistics, both to justify its schools’ discriminatory admissions policies in general, and to force the removal of the 50% cap on religious selection in particular.

It has long claimed that its schools are socio-economically inclusive, by comparing how poor the areas its schools are located in to the national average. Catholic schools, the CES says, are disproportionately located in poorer areas. This shows that they are disproportionately inclusive of children from poorer backgrounds, right? Wrong. All this tells us is that its schools are in inner cities. It doesn’t tell us anything about the pupils themselves. In fact, when you compare the intakes of Catholic schools to the children living near those schools, you see that Catholic schools actually take  pupils who are much better-off than the local average. Moreover, when you do the same comparison with the national average, Catholic schools still take a disproportionate number of well-off pupils.

The CES has also long claimed that its schools are much more ethnically diverse than the national average. But its schools are only diverse to the extent that Catholics themselves are diverse. This means its schools take lots of white and black pupils. But in terms of taking pupils from ethnic backgrounds not associated with Catholicism (i.e. Asian minorities), its schools are massively exclusive. This is true in comparison to both the national and local averages, meaning they are still not as diverse as schools of no religious character.

More recently the CES has started to boast about the number of Muslim pupils in its schools. In fact, its schools take about 2-3 times fewer Muslim – and 10 times fewer non-religious – pupils than there are in Britain as a whole. While 15 of its schools have Muslim-majority intakes, around 73 are located in areas where most pupils are from Muslim families.

Yesterday the CES added another line to this sort of faulty argument, when it argued that a 2017 poll showing rank-and-file Catholics are against discrimination in admissions is unsound:

‘A source within the CES… told The Tablet that the results of the survey quoted in the letter were misleading. The letter cited 80 per cent of the public – 67 per cent of which they said were Catholic – opposing the government’s consultation on the policy.

The survey, conducted by research and strategy consultancy Populus in May 2017, asked 2,033 people, 129 of whom identified as Catholic, their thoughts on admissions policies for state-funded faith schools.

This is a very small sample size of Catholics compared to the thousands of Catholics who have petitioned the Education Secretary to lift the cap, the source said. At the last count 15,000 faithful had signed the petition.’

Let’s explain how the statistics here work. First, let’s work out how many Catholics there are. The latest British Social Attitudes Survey suggests that about 8.6% of British adults are Catholics. The ONS says the British adult population is just over 50 million. So this comes to 4.3 million Catholics.

A self-selecting sample of 15,000 out of a population of 4.3 million tells us absolutely nothing about the views of the 4.3 million as a whole – not least given that the 15,000 were responding to a call to action promoted by Catholic dioceses.

There were in fact 149 Catholics in the Populus poll, not 129, of whom 67% said they’re against the dropping of the faith school admissions cap. This may sound like a small number. But we have to remember that, unlike the 15,000, those 149 were selected to be representative of the population as a whole. That scientific approach is why people pay polling companies to do research, instead of just asking the same number of their friends and supporters what they think, or asking people who visit their organisation’s website (which is basically what a petition does). And, indeed, if you stick a 4.3 million population figure and a 149 sample figure through a margin of error calculator, it spits out a margin of error of almost precisely +/-8%.

8% is not a small margin of error. But it is easily small enough to mean that that 67% undoubtedly represents a majority of Catholics either way.

So, yes, CES, 149 representatively selected Catholics is a significant number. Whereas 15,000 self-selected Catholics is not.

FSA team

A day in my life at an illegal ultra Orthodox school in London

“I was hit almost daily, oftentime leaving marks and bruises for days to come.”

My name is Izzy and I would like to share with you the story of my childhood.

Just like you – or perhaps unlike you – I was born to two loving parents whose greatest wish in life was that I and my siblings grow to become our best selves and have the best opportunities in life. But unlike you, that “life” was not meant to be during our lifetime.

You see, I grew up in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in East London – a community ruled by a dictator. That dictator – aka God – had a plan. A very specific and well-calculated one. The details and minutiae of the plan were very intricate and complex, but the general idea was very simple: God has a book that he wants you to follow. You either follow the book and secure yourself an eternity of bliss in heaven, or you disobey it and you are sent to hell.

Now, this may sound like an easy enough task, but the book was no mere book of instructions. It was actually an extremely complex document with many layers of understanding and interpretation and in order to avoid the hellfires one had to be on constant guard to ensure that their every action, speech and thought is to the absolute godly standard. Even a tiny deviation from the rules – which covered every second of one’s day – would be cause of great concern as to the consequences of those actions.

“Contact with outsiders, we were told, would contaminate our pure souls and so we must isolate ourselves”

In such an environment the best possible upbringing that one can have is one that brings them up to be obedient and submissive subjects to God, who know exactly what they are to do and who follow all the rules to perfection. Good grades, employability, character development, self actualisation, physical and emotional well being, were therefore of minor and secondary concern for our educators and schools. What was important is that we are well versed in the religious texts and that we have the correct godly conduct – which extended to far more than being an upright and moral citizen.

I thus spent all of my childhood in a run-down school building, studying religious texts from morning to evening. Studying secular studies would be an absolute waste of time, as being knowledgeable about the world was not in God’s instruction manual. Not only did we not study any secular subjects, but we were also completely ignorant of them, believing that everything that one can possibly know is contained in God’s Book of Books. Instead of science, we had the ancient writings of the Talmud to enlighten us with the most “up to date facts” about the universe, such as the universe’s geocentricity, the various kinds of demons around and how to protect oneself from them and young earth creationism.

The language of instruction in school – the only language that most of the kids and teachers could speak – was Yiddish. The language barrier was a deliberate implementation by community leaders with the unashamed goal of limiting contact between community members and outsiders. Contact with outsiders, we were told, would contaminate our pure souls and so we must isolate ourselves as to not get influenced by their filth and stupidity.

In-keeping with Biblical methods of child education, corporal punishment was the preferred choice of disciplining for teachers and educators in my community. Personally, being a particularly non-conforming child, I was hit almost daily, oftentime leaving marks and bruises for days to come. Modern pedagogical methods and psychology were frowned upon in my community and special educational needs went unacknowledged.

“Most boys finish school without being able to speak their country’s language or do little more than basic arithmetic.”

I can go on and on recounting one horror story of my childhood after another, but I want to come on to tell you what my concerns are now regarding the thousands of my former co-religionist kids still remaining in the community and still being brought up in their education system.

Spiritual captivity: Education is about giving kids information and guiding them so that when they grow up and become adults they can make choices of their own. The kids in Ultra Orthodox Jewish communities are shown only one possible way of life and are told that all who deviate from that go to hell. This keeps the kids in spiritual captivity and deprives them from any other lifestyle they may have wanted to live.

Deprived education: Kids in my former community are not given anything that could be called an adequate education even by the most minimum standards. Most boys finish school without being able to speak their country’s language or do little more than basic arithmetic. This means that when they grow up they find it extremely difficult to do tasks as simple as going to the doctor’s or the bank. When they eventually need to support a family, they find themselves without the basic tools for supporting themselves and many of them resort to a life of poverty, dependency and income through dubious means.

Anti acculturation: The community has a very negative attitudes to outsiders and to alternative cultures and lifestyles. Kids in the community are brought up with hostility towards, and suspicion of, people beyond their virtual ghetto walls. Far from promoting pluralism, respectful disagreement and tolerance, these schools teach kids a single and absolute lifestyle to the exclusion of all others. Kids are taught racist and sexist ideas and grow to hate other religions, sexual identities and alternative lifestyles.

Child safety and development: Being so secretive and so scarcely regulated, kids learning in these schools are under constant risk of maltreatment and underdevelopment. Corporal punishment is the norm and kids are potentially vulnerable to other forms of abuse as well. An extremely narrow curriculum fails to stimulate the kids and does not allow them to develop healthily into adulthood. Psychological problems and behavioural issues are disproportionately high amongst charedi adolescents, being a direct result of an education system that is monotonous and all text based.

As an ancient Talmudic saying goes, “the chained cannot free himself from the house of bondage”. It is therefore the moral responsibility of those were more fortunate than these kids and have had a good education, to do all that we can to make sure that the less privileged get what they deserve. We cannot idly stand by whilst just around the corner basic education – something that we take for granted – is denied from thousands of our fellow human beings.  

Izzy Posen

This testimony was first told to Humanists UK, which leads the national campaign for action against unregistered religious schools. Humanists UK works closely with former pupils of such settings, like Izzy, as well as current members of extreme religious communities to highlight their experiences and provide valuable evidence to the authorities.

Anti-LGBT views should be no more acceptable in schools than racist views are

Anti-LGBT views should be no more acceptable in schools than racist views are. However, some faith schools and religious leaders are continuing to publically air anti-LGBT views, particularly with regard to Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). The lack of criticism they are receiving and the willingness shown by the Government to cooperate with them is unacceptable.   

Earlier this month, Charedi leaders refused to allow the teaching of LGBT-inclusive Relationships and Sex Education in schools, telling Lord Theodore Agnew, Minister of State at the Department for Education, that there would be ‘no compromise’. One member of the Orthodox Union of Hebrew Congregations (UOHC), whose organisation attended the meeting, said the requirement to teach pupils about same-sex relationships was ‘a form of religious discrimination’.

This begs the question, why is it still acceptable in 2018 for religious leaders to openly get away with refusing to accept the existence of LGBT people and to educate their pupils about them? Or worse still, why are they given the opportunity to air their hateful views to a Government minister?

It’s hard to imagine anyone accommodating this kind of intolerance if the issue under discussion was race. Clearly it would not be considered acceptable for religious leaders to refuse to promote racial equality because it ‘could not be accommodated within any orthodox educational framework’ and was ‘inconsistent with freedom of educational choice’, which is how they labelled the prospect of teaching LGBT-inclusive RSE.

Far from condemning their views, Lord Agnew apparently promised to facilitate a meeting between the Charedi leaders and Ofsted and, according to those attending, ‘appeared very sympathetic to the concerns expressed’, even agreeing ‘that it made no sense to expect Orthodox schools to teach concepts totally beyond the comprehension of children raised in a protective religious environment’.

This meeting makes a mockery of the attempts that have been made by the Government and Ofsted to crack down on faith schools that refuse to teach LGBT perspectives. In June, Vishnitz Girls School failed an Ofsted inspection for neglecting to educate its pupils on sexual orientation or any other LGBT related issues. And yet, months later, this kind of discrimination is seemingly acceptable enough to warrant an Education minister’s sympathy and the chance for a meeting with Ofsted.  

It’s hard to imagine anyone accommodating this kind of intolerance if the issue under discussion was race.

The Charedi leaders’ stance on LGBT-inclusive teaching is far from unique. Discriminatory public statements by faith schools concerning LGBT relationships such as this one, found until recently on the website of a state-funded Catholic school, Bishop Challoner Catholic school in Basingstoke, have no place in modern society but are all too common. It stated that,  

‘a homosexual partnership and a heterosexual marriage can never be equated. This is the case in English law. The Church seeks to affirm the homosexual as a person, but cannot approve of homosexual genital acts.’

That this could be the open policy of a school where around 800 UK pupils are educated, some of them likely to be LGBT, is shocking. Had the statement concerned race and suggested that black or interracial partnerships were unequal to marriage between white people then it’s not hard to imagine the school might have been shut down. At the very least, its teaching would be investigated by the DfE. As it was, the school was allowed to claim the policy was ‘an administrative error’. This excuse was not questioned by the Hampshire County Council whose statement that ‘the school has responded appropriately and confirmed that the policy referred to was out of date. The county council has no further comment to make’, fails to address the vile content of the policy, the number of years that it was allowed to remain on the school’s website, and the strong possibility that it reflects the teaching at that school. The DfE, rather than take action, simply refused to comment on the case.    

Faith based discrimination against LGBT people is, of course, sadly a broader issue which extends outside of faith schools. Tim Farron, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, remained as leader for nearly two years until his resignation in June despite being clearly uncomfortable about the idea of non-heterosexual relationships. His recent statement of regret that he had said gay sex was not sinful was criticised to an extent, but one can only imagine the uproar had the question been focused on interracial relationships, for instance. Equally, his narrative of continual persecution on the basis of his Christian beliefs, the focus of his resignation speech, would not be considered acceptable if he had been lamenting the criticism he had received for holding racist views.

In this day and age, in a country whose most important values are meant to be respect and mutual understanding, it is hard to believe that religious leaders and faith schools can continue to openly discriminate and teach hateful values to their pupils. And yet, the evidence that they can is all too clear. Whatever the tenets of their faith and their own personal beliefs, those who provide relationships and sex education should ensure that it is inclusive for all gender identities and sexualities, just as all schools in the UK are expected to be inclusive of all races and ethnicities.

No form of discrimination in education should be considered more acceptable than any other.  


FSA staff