from the Fourth Report (2002/03) of the House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee

Secondary Education: Diversity of Provision

22 May 2003: HC 94: ISBN 0 21 501085 X

Key Findings

The key finding of our inquiry is the lack of sufficient research evidence to indicate whether the choices the Government is making in secondary education policy are based on secure foundations. There has been very little research on the impact of specialist schools on their neighbouring schools; the Government has placed too much emphasis on a narrow range of research on the comparative performance of specialist schools; and we have found the 5 A*-C GCSEs indicator for attainment at 16 to be an inadequate and misleading measure of pupil achievement.

Narrow and simplistic approaches to measuring school improvement cannot provide adequate evidence as to the efficacy of the Government's diversity policy across the ability range. This raises questions as to the planned expansion of the programme. Without further evaluation it is not possible to assess the extent to which the apparent benefits of specialisation might be extended across secondary education.

Other extracts

21.    School diversity impacts on schools' pupil intake in ways surely unimagined by policy makers. Wholly selective schools and those schools which select a proportion of their intake; the operation of parental preference; specialist, single sex and faith schools, all have the effect of narrowing the pool from which the intakes of non-selective, non-specialist schools are drawn. Such schools therefore largely comprise the children of parents who fail to obtain a place in their preferred school and of those who were unwilling or unable to exercise their preference. Thus, physical and social geography combine to produce a spectrum of schools distinguished by their intake. . .

Faith schools

25.    Faith schools have been enthusiastically supported by the DfES and the Prime Minister on grounds of their distinctive ethos and perceived academic success.["Blair ensures triumph of faith", Times Educational Supplement, 1 March 2002, p 11.]

26.    The 1944 Education Act provided for the incorporation of existing faith schools into the maintained sector. These schools were designated as Voluntary Aided (mainly Catholic), and Voluntary Controlled (mainly Church of England). There are 580 secondary schools or middle schools, deemed secondary with a religious character. Designation as a faith school is limited to foundation and voluntary schools. In the maintained faith school sector, Roman Catholic and Church of England schools dominate, although there are now a small but increasing number of Muslim, Sikh and Jewish maintained schools.

27.    Faith schools have, uniquely for providers of generalist education in the maintained sector, been permitted to interview applicants and their parents in order to ascertain religious affiliation and commitment where this is explicit in the admissions requirements. Professor Richard Pring of Oxford University told us that research on this practice has suggested that "selection based ostensibly on 'faith', skewed the social class intake of Church schools". [Ev 2. Professor Pring cites the work of Benn, C & Chitty, C Thirty Years On, David Fulton, 1996] This may in turn account for the marginally higher than average academic achievements of pupils in faith schools.

28     A recent study by Professor Anne West and Audrey Hind at the London School of Economics on the operation of overt and covert selection in school admission [Secondary school admissions in England: Exploring the extent of overt and covert selection, Anne West & Audrey Hind, London School of Economics, 2003.], found that 10% of Voluntary Aided schools reported interviewing parents and 16% reported interviewing pupils. Guidance contained in the new Code of Practice on School Admissions discourages this practice with the advice that "for the admission round leading to September 2005 intakes and subsequent admissions, no parents or children should be interviewed as any part of the application or admission process".[School Admissions Code of Practice, 02/2003, DfES/0031/2003 para 3.16.] . . .

55.   In practice, parents have found that the reality of school diversity and choice can act to limit rather than expand their options for their children's education. The existence of single sex, faith and specialist schools is a positive and welcome choice for those who want them and who are able to secure places for their children, while for those who do not, such schools can limit choice. . .

57.    . . . [Professor Ron Glatter of the Open University] argued that although the diversity agenda had produced many different variations in secondary schooling, in practice families found their choices restricted to a small subset of these. In cases where pupils may not be eligible for a place at one or more of their local schools, for reasons of faith or selection, for example, the real extent of parental preference was limited. . .

Diversity and faith

64.    Schools achieving success, the 2001 White Paper that heralded the Government's expansion of its diversity policy, welcomed new providers into the maintained sector. It specifically highlighted providers in the faith sector and measures to remove barriers to the development of more faith schools: "We wish to welcome faith schools, with their distinctive ethos and character into the maintained sector where there is clear local agreement. Guidance to School Organisation Committees will require them to give proposals from faith groups the same consideration as those from others, including LEAs." [Cm 5230, para 5.30.]

65.    The motivation for the expansion of faith-based schooling appears to come from two directions. First is the belief that in a multicultural and multi-faith society it is only fair that the benefits of state-funded, faith-based education should not be limited to the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. In evidence to the Committee, Professor Tim Brighouse said: "I suspect there will be more Muslim aided secondary schools…if we are to have faith secondary schools it is desirable that there should be."  [Education and Skills Committee, Second Report of Session 2002-03, Secondary Education: visits to Birmingham and Auckland, HC 486, Qq 275-276.]

66.     The second motivating force, the belief that faith schools obtain higher standards, is more problematic. Evidence from the National Foundation for Educational Research [Memorandum from Ian and Sandie Schagen (DP02) [not printed]] (NFER) suggests that not only is the performance premium for faith schools not significant, but that it may be derived from a combination of school practices, for example entering all pupils for an additional GCSE.[ibid] According to NFER, this undermines the notion that the faith formula, more widely applied, would give rise to improved attainment. Dr Sandie Schagen, Principal Research Officer at the National Foundation for Educational Research told us:

"On the basis of our research, looking exclusively at achievement, there is not any evidence at all to suggest really that increasing the number of faith schools will improve the level of achievement….Our finding is that basically, when you apply value-added analysis, that advantage all but disappears, which suggests that the difference is based on intake. Interestingly, you can hypothesise that if they do have better ethos and better behaviour and so on that would lead to better achievement, but we did not find any evidence that that is so."[Q 215]

Of course it may that parents are seeking not higher standards, but a different ethos to that of most schools.

67.    At present, faith schools in England are predominantly those supported by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. It is therefore likely that any demand for significant expansion of faith schooling is likely to originate from other groups and to have the potential to create a school system divided not only on religious lines but also by ethnicity.[ Ev 2 ]

68.    The expansion of faith based education has been enthusiastically and publicly supported by the Prime Minister, ["Blair ensures triumph of faith", Times Educational Supplement, 1 March 2002, p 11.] although concerns expressed from other quarters appear to have had the effect of reducing the priority given to this initiative. More recent announcements from the Department for Education and Skills and comments on education by the Prime Minister have seen the prominence of the faith sector recede in relation to other initiatives.

69.   We welcome the Government's more balanced approach to the promotion of faith schools and urge extreme caution in any future expansion of the faith sector. Tensions in Northern Ireland between the the two communities illustrate the problems that segregated schools can exacerbate. Future developments in this area should guard against the creation of ethnically segregated schooling. his is a referred page.



6 June 2003