I’m not one for reading statistics, but this table really gave me pause for thought. Church schools were originally founded a little over a century ago to provide education to those who could not afford the expensive public schools of the time. Now, it seems, they may be discriminating against the very people they are supposed to help.
Why am I saying this? Well, let’s look at one very telling measure of wealth, which is whether a child receives free schools meals or not. If church schools really are doing the job of educating the less well-off then church schools should have a higher proportion of children receiving free school meals than is typical for the area in which it is situated. That’s straightforward enough.
The shock to me was that quite the reverse seems to be true. The Guardian printed an article a few days ago looking at this very statistic. This article, based on freely available information, showed that church schools often have much lower proportions of children receiving free school meals. This is certainly true of the affluent Brentwood area. Of 21 primary schools in CM13, CM14 and CM15 postcode areas, the ones with the lowest proportion of pupils on free school meals are all church schools. It is the state schools which now seem to be catering (no pun intended) for the children of the less well off.
|School||% pupils eligible for FSM||Postcode % of FSM||More or less than postcode %|
|St Mary’s Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School, Shenfield||0.8||5.7||Less|
|St Helen’s Catholic Infant School||1.5||5.7||Less|
|St Helen’s Catholic Junior School||2.1||5.7||Less|
|Bentley St Paul’s Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School||2.3||5.7||Less|
|Ingrave Johnstone Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School||2.3||7.2||Less|
|St Thomas of Canterbury Church of England Aided Infant School||2.3||5.7||Less|
|St Peter’s Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School, South Weald||3.2||9.8||Less|
|Long Ridings Primary School||3.5||7.2||Less|
|Doddinghurst Infant School||4.1||5.7||Less|
|Doddinghurst Church of England Voluntary Controlled Junior School||4.4||5.7||Less|
|St Joseph the Worker Catholic Primary School||4.7||7.2||Less|
|St Thomas of Canterbury Church of England Aided Junior School, Brentwood||6.2||5.7||More|
|Mountnessing Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School||6.9||5.7||More|
|Hutton All Saints’ Church of England Primary School||9.5||7.2||More|
|Kelvedon Hatch Community Primary School||10.2||5.7||More|
|Holly Trees Primary School||13.2||9.8||More|
|Warley Primary School||15.2||9.8||More|
|Hogarth Primary School||20||5.7||More|
|Larchwood Primary School||20||5.7||More|
|Willowbrook Primary School||25.8||7.2||More|
|West Horndon Primary School||NA||7.2|
It is disturbing too that these figures may show a social trend in action. Some of the schools come in pairs, with an infant school feeding a junior school. Where the percentage of children on free school meals is lower in the feeder infant school, which can only mean that, in time, the proportion in the upper school will fall as the pupils move between the schools.
Now, statistics can be misleading, and I certainly don’t suggest that there is some sort of social engineering conspiracy amongst faith schools. There are many factors which can affect the social mix of pupils in a schools and it would be simplistic to assume that schools are not limited by the mix of pupils that apply. Nevertheless, it does seem that faith schools appeal less to the less affluent and, more importantly, the schools themselves do not seem concerned by that fact. We need to change that, and this is one area where a new proposed school such as Becket Keys can demonstrate that it really does have a Christian ethos. However, if the social profile of its intake fails to match the aspirations of the church school founders then both education and Christianity will be the worse for it.