Facts vs falsehoods: churches continue to mislead on how inclusive their schools are

“It is a sad state of affairs when a humanist organisation will stand up for the rights of Muslims to access a wide variety of schools, but a group purporting to be the national Muslim body won’t do likewise.”

Last week the British Humanist Association (BHA) published research challenging misleading claims made by both the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service that their schools were inclusive of pupils from Muslim backgrounds, with many schools even taking a majority of Muslim-background pupils.  

The research was published on the back of a Sunday Times report last month which found that ‘Muslim pupils outnumber Christian children in more than 30 church schools’, with the report saying that ‘The Church of England estimated that about 20 of its schools had more Muslim pupils than Christians and 15 Roman Catholic schools had majority Muslim pupils, according to the Catholic Education Service.’.

The Church of England in particular was quick to herald these numbers as a telling demonstration of just how ‘wide open to the communities they serve’ their schools are. Indeed, in comments that received widespread media coverage across the national press, the CofE’s education chief Nigel Genders noted that whilst ‘some still seem surprised when they hear of Church of England schools serving people of other faiths’, many parents tell him that they choose church schools precisely because ‘they know they will get a much more diverse sense of community rather than being separated out’.

Unfortunately for both the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service, the BHA then did some research which revealed that only a quarter of CofE and Catholic schools situated in areas where most young people identify as ‘Muslim’ actually take most of their pupils from Muslim backgrounds. Not so ‘wide open to the communities they serve’ after all.

Bizarrely, the CofE’s response to this was not to debunk the BHA’s statistics, which in fact are simply drawn from official Census data and remain unchallenged. Rather, the CofE has sought to distance itself from its own figures. Quoted in Schools Week, Mr Genders accused the BHA of:

‘attempting to contrast a purely anecdotal figure calculated by a Sunday newspaper with entirely separate census statistics.’

Now, even if we forget for a moment that the CofE was perfectly happy with the supposedly ‘anecdotal figure’ when it was using it to launch into a very public exercise in patting itself on the back, for it to say that the figure was ‘calculated by a Sunday newspaper’ is misleading in the extreme. It may have been published by a Sunday newspaper, presumably at the Church’s urging, but calculated? No. Let’s have a look again at exactly what was reported:

‘The Church of England estimated that about 20 of its schools had more Muslim pupils than Christians’

Note: ‘The Church of England estimated’. An anecdotal figure it may be, but if it is, then it is the Church’s own anecdotal figure. And discrediting a Sunday newspaper for publishing it is some way to thank them for a writing a puff piece in the first place.

At any rate, very little was made in the Schools Week piece of the Catholic figures. We found that 73 Catholic schools are situated in areas where most young people identify as ‘Muslim’, while just 15 were reported by the Sunday Times to actually take most of their pupils from Muslim backgrounds. Even if the Church of England’s figure is in fact an inaccurate ‘anecdote’ that they should never have told the press was an ‘estimate’ of which it was proud, the Catholic figure is undoubtedly accurate. Because unlike the CofE, the Catholic Education Service surveys all the pupils in its schools to find out their religious backgrounds. So it is definitely the case that Catholic schools are woefully exclusive.

Incidentally, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was also quoted in Schools Week leaping to the defence of the Church of England’s schools – another bizarre response given how exclusive they are of the people the MCB is supposed to represent. It is a sad state of affairs when a humanist organisation will stand up for the rights of Muslims to access a wide variety of schools, but a group purporting to be the national Muslim body won’t do likewise.

In any case, the lesson here should be clear: if you don’t want your falsehoods (if, indeed, they are falsehoods) undermined by the facts, don’t publish falsehoods in the first place. Unfortunately, given all that we know about the proponents of religious discrimination and segregation in our education system, we can’t imagine it’s a lesson they’ll learn.

FSA staff

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