Doublethink: the Catholic Education Service, the Government, and the 50% cap

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it…

This is the definition of ‘doublethink’ in George Orwell’s 1984, the state of mind required to accept both the reforms introduced by the ‘Party’ and the ‘newspeak’ it uses to justify them.

The appeal of any dystopian fiction lies partly in the understanding that whilst the reality it presents may, at first glance, seem very different to our own, it is actually, on closer inspection, not so very different at all. Setting aside for a moment any other parallels that might exist between our world and the world of 1984, it becomes all too clear that ‘doublethink’ is alive and well in both worlds when examining the proposals to end the 50% cap on religious selection by free schools.

‘To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies…’

One of the principal justifications for this move is that the 50% cap ‘contravenes canon law’. This claim, perpetuated by the Catholic Education Service (CES) as its principal argument in favour of the cap’s lifting is patently false. So transparently false in fact, that it seems wrong merely to describe the Government as having been misled. Rather, the Government has allowed itself to be misled.

The following, taken from a Humanists UK briefing published late last year, makes that abundantly clear:

a)​ the vast majority of Catholic private schools in England (78 out of 101 according to a recent survey) do not select all their places with reference to religion, whether oversubscribed or not, and many openly celebrate the fact that they do not religiously select at all;

b)​ many Catholic state schools in Scotland do not religiously select their pupils

c)​ around the world allowing state-funded schools (Catholic or otherwise) to religiously discriminate in admissions is extremely rare. A recent OECD survey identified only the UK, Ireland, Israel and Estonia as permitting discrimination of this nature;

d)​ devastatingly, there are already Catholic state schools in England that do not select all their places on religion. For example, St Richard Reynolds Catholic Primary School in Richmond, St Paul’s Academy in Greenwich, and The De La Salle Academy in Liverpool all leave a third of their places open to non-Catholic children.

e)​ the Catholic International Education Office – the umbrella body for over 100 national catholic education organisations around the world, including the CES – stated in an official paper circulated at the Council of Europe in November 2016 that a ‘Catholic school is an inclusive school, founded in intercultural and interreligious dialogue. A non-discriminatory school, open to all, especially the poorest… [It] is anything but a communitarian school. It is open to all. In many European, American, Arab, African or Asian countries, the Catholic school welcomes mainly, or even exclusively, Muslim pupils, Buddhists, animists, or pupils of other religions, even those without religion. It must constantly promote intercultural and interreligious dialogue’.

Both the Government and the CES must now know these truths, and yet they persist with the notion that canon law has been breached.

‘…to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them…’

Speaking to the TES in October 2016, CES Director Paul Barber stated that ‘the move back to schools of 100 per cent one faith is dreadful’, adding that ‘to have children of other faiths in our schools’ is ‘a real blessing’. Bizarre, no?

How, you might ask, can the CES claim to be on the side of integration having lobbied to end the only policy in recent years that meaningfully requires schools to promote integration? How can the CES opine with one breath that fully segregated schools are to be avoided, and with the next breath call for a change that would make new fully segregated schools possible? How can the CES claim to welcome children from other faiths, while demanding that the Government gives it permission to turn away such children at the gate? This is doublethink in action.

The doublethink is present throughout the Government, too. Speaking on the steps of No. 10 when announcing this policy, Theresa May stated unequivocally that integration was still her aim, and that on removing the cap the Government would be consulting on ‘a new set of much more effective requirements to ensure that faith schools are properly inclusive and make sure their pupils mix with children of other faiths and backgrounds.’

The Prime Minister must know, of course, that religiously segregated schools are anathema to integration. Just as she must know that the best way to ensure mixing between pupils from different backgrounds is to actually have them mix. In fact, in August 2017 the Department for Education (DfE) helpfully published a report it commissioned into the benefits of mixing within schools. The study, which examined contact between pupils from White-British and Asian-British pupils at secondary schools in Oldham, found that:

  • ‘Attitudes were more positive and, as would be expected, mixing was more frequent in mixed than segregated schools’.
  • ‘Mixed schools do result in more social mixing between ethnic groups over time, and mixing is reliably associated with more positive views of the outgroup.’
  • ‘Attitudes of pupils who mix with other backgrounds were more positive compared to those who remain with their own ethnicities.’

This is a DfE-commissioned report! And while we’re on Government-commissioned reports, let’s not forget the Casey Review on integration. The two-year review concluded that ‘When children being educated in segregated schools are also growing up in an area where all of their neighbours are from the same ethnic and/or faith background, it vastly reduces opportunities for them to mix with others from different backgrounds. It deprives them of the benefits – individually and to society as a whole – that are known to derive from mixing with people from different backgrounds.’

Good. In that case the review must also have concluded that the Government’s plans to allow for more segregation in the education system are wrong-headed and potentially very damaging. No such luck. The review fails to recommend that the Government drop its plans to remove the 50% cap, perhaps reflecting the fact that the review was published by the Home Office, at a time when Theresa May was Home Secretary. Nevermind that this contradicted everything contained within the rest of the report as well as the personal view of its author Dame Louise Casey. Doublethink.

‘…to use logic against logic…’

I did not, above, explain why the CES deem the 50% cap to contravene canon law. Well, simply put the Catholic Church in England and Wales believes that if a Catholic school was to turn away Catholics, that would go against canon law. As Paul Barber says:

‘If we create a new school in an area where there’s a large demand from Catholic parents, and we’re saying from day one, “You can’t come to this school, because you’re Catholic,” the Catholic community would not understand that.’

What Paul Barber is trying to claim here is that what exists now is a quota not a cap. This is dead wrong. As we wrote on this website some months ago ‘The difference is this: after a school has taken its 50 percent of pupils on the basis of faith, it then has to take the second 50 percent “without reference to faith”. But that is not the same as saying that it cannot take any more pupils of that faith. Instead, the second 50 per cent affords everyone who applies equal opportunity to gain access to the school, regardless of their religion or belief.’ In other words, the CES are stating that equal treatment for all = discrimination against Catholics. Again, doublethink.

Unfortunately, this is a fallacy that the Government has also subscribed to, meaning that a) the Government doesn’t understand a policy that it introduced itself and has been implemented for the last seven years, or b) the Government does understand its own policy and is deliberately misrepresenting it in order to justify the reform demanded by the CES. Either way, new logic is being used to undermine the old.

‘…to repudiate morality while laying claim to it…’

As we have seen, the claims made by the CES, and repeated by the Government, are untrue, contradictory, and illogical. But they are also immoral.

The CES is an organisation keen to talk up its contribution. It boasts of its long history of providing public education, and its website proudly states that ‘service to those who are amongst the most disadvantaged in our society has also always been central to the mission of Catholic education’.  

There is no doubt that for many of the teachers and other staff working in Catholic schools throughout England and Wales, this is a mission they carry out sincerely and often thanklessly. But they are let down direly by their superiors.

We have already observed that instead of welcoming the ‘blessing’ of having ‘children of other faiths in our schools’, the CES campaigns at a national level to keep those children out. We also know, from decades of research into the consequences of faith-based admission arrangements, that whenever religious selection is employed, children from poorer families are disproportionately turned away. In other words, the more religiously selective a school, the fewer poorer children it will admit.

The CES is well aware of this effect, as is the Government. And yet, under the guise of ‘mission’ and moral obligation, they persist with their attempt to increase religious selection in the education system. There is nothing moral about it.


All of this, and in far more detail, has been communicated to the Government. Ever since it made the announcement it has been inundated with evidence that entirely undermines its position and it has been overwhelmed by experts who demand a u-turn. For a time, whilst Justine Greening was Education Secretary, it seemed as though the Government was listening. But now, all that has been thrown into fresh doubt.

Towards the end of 1984, Winston asks the following question to himself: ‘what can you do against the lunatic… who gives your arguments fair hearing and then simply persists in the lunacy?’ If the Government presses on with these proposals, we might well ask the same question.

FSA team