Like this really helps the debate
Tonight I had to really think. As a priest, is it okay to swear on my own blog? Do I have a rule against swearing? Have I ever sworn before on this blog?
I have no idea, to be honest, to any of those questions but I find myself sorely tempted to start swearing this evening after reading a big pile of garbage being served up like cold school dinner over on the Guardian website today.
Apparently, they say, church schools shun the poorest pupils. No doubt, there will be more weeping and gnashing of teeth by secularists (or perhaps just triumphal cries) while the middle classes tut knowingly. But before you absorb too much of this headline, let’s drill down a bit into the article.
First off, there is the fact that the journalists seem not to know the difference between a ‘faith school’ (set-up to educate kids and propagate that particular faith) and a ‘church school’. Clearly, these journalists hadn’t read (or had forgotten) Bishop Nick Baines’ article for their very same newspaper in July last year in which he clarified the difference:
“A church school – in the way the Church of England understands it – is not confessional. Church of England schools are established primarily for the communities they are located in. They are inclusive and serve equally those who are of the Christian faith, of other faiths and of no faith. Their Christian ethos is underpinned by Christian values concerned for the wellbeing of all in the community, irrespective of religious, cultural or socio-economic background. Rooted in an understanding that we “love God and love our neighbour as ourself”, they seek to offer the highest quality of education and care for all pupils – reflecting both the teaching of the Gospel and the mission of the Church of England to serve the whole community.”
If they did know the difference, they might also realise that a great number of church schools are ‘voluntary controlled’ which means they have absolutely no control over admissions. So how these schools can be “have been picking pupils from well-off families by selecting on the basis of religion” is beyond me.
But even allowing for that, assuming we are talking only about the voluntary-aided schools as a fraction of the overall, we get into the real kicker in this sorry reasoning. The Guardian’s method involved analysing the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals but with all schools designated for children with special needs taken out.
Problem 1. Free school meals is not necessarily a brilliant indicator of poverty. It is an indicator, but what about all those families who don’t apply because they don’t want to admit they need the help? Furthermore, another article from the Guardian in 2008 suggested that half of the pupils in the UK below the poverty line aren’t eligible for free school meals.
Obviously writing for newspapers doesn’t really mean you have to have read what your colleagues are writing (or have written) as well. I guess they’re probably too busy to do their homework properly.
Problem 2. If you take out all the schools that have special needs units, you are probably going to be taking out a good proportion of the church schools and other faith schools that work in the most disadvantaged communities.
Disadvantaged areas have higher then average levels of special educational needs. Many such schools have special needs units attached. Take out their statistics and of course it’s going to look like the data is badly skewed.
This is a terrible article based on a terrible, inaccurate premise and it denigrates the brilliant job being done all over the country by teachers, governors, and parents in church schools and faith schools (which are different) who are all trying to help kids who need that help the most.
Jessica Shepherd and Simon Rogers. Back of the class, the pair of you.