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

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

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