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Last Updated: Friday, 17 February 2006, 12:30 GMT
Church schools 'help poor pupils'
Children walking into school
Critics of the government's plans fear greater selection
There is renewed attention on church schools amid claims of social segregation, possibly through "covert selection".

Professor David Jesson of the University of York offers a different perspective: arguing that the churches' historic engagement with disadvantage continues to this day.

Controversy over the role of "faith" schools has grown in recent years - rather surprising in what some would describe as an increasingly materialistic society.

In part this may be due to the perceived malign influence of the "religious right" in America and the emergence of prominent Christian group sponsorship of some high profile academies in this country.

Some see the role of "faith" schools as little more than an exercise in covert selection, where some gain advantages at the expense of others in their community.

Others see these moves as worrying signs of a further polarisation in the provision of education in this country.


In England there are just under 500 voluntary aided secondary schools - mainly attached to either the Church of England or the Roman Catholic church, although other groups are beginning to make use of this form of governance.

Voluntary aided schools are their own "admissions authorities" and although they are guided by local agreements on the pupils they take, some contributors to this debate insist that many of them engage in forms of covert selection.

The motivation is said to be to ensure greater proportions of able and well-motivated pupils than would be justified by local conditions.

To date, however, little appears to have been written about the role of these schools in combating "disadvantage" - which, given their history in both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic church, was what these schools were originally intended to do.


Schools can be classified by the percentage of pupils entitled to free school meals (FSM) - providing one, albeit crude, measure of disadvantage.

Using information from 2004, there were some 2,900 non-selective secondary schools in England.

Schools with "high" FSM levels - those serving school populations with more than 21% on this measure - form about a quarter of all secondary schools.

The proportion of schools classified as "disadvantaged" was broadly similar amongst voluntary aided schools and those with other forms of governance. The average entitlement to free school meals was almost identical, at about 33%.

Interestingly, however, GCSE results for voluntary aided disadvantaged schools were higher than those for other disadvantaged schools.

The differential is not enormous - around 5% in the proportion getting the equivalent of five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C - but certainly worth noting.

Whilst this does not claim to be an exhaustive analysis of these schools it is surely appropriate to draw attention to their historic role in combating disadvantage and their current capacity to continue to deliver.

Professor David Jesson FRSS, Centre for Performance Evaluation and Resource Management, Department of Economics, University of York

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