Faith schools and covert selection

(109 Posts)
mummybear701 Sun 27-Jul-14 16:01:35

I've had a few discussions with people at both my childrens old RC primary school and the one they are moving to this term that they have been accused of using covert selection 'to favour middle class families'. Has anyone else experienced this? At our old school the only criteria I was aware of was committment to the religion of the school (ie attending church), and a limited number of non faith pupils were admitted (so less open door than the local non-denom primary). The school seemed very well led, good discipline, with happy and well achieving pupils but there are many explanations for this. Good leadership, small class sizes, religion synonymous with moral values and hard work. Free school meals was in line with national average and slightly below that of the non denom primary in our catchment. Exclusions proportionally higher in RC school.

MothershipG Sun 27-Jul-14 16:26:01

A mumsnetter, I think it was Seeker, apologies if not, once explained this with the juggling analogy - basically if a school applies entry criteria beyond the standard you automatically get a degree of selection. It doesn't matter what the criteria is, it could be juggling, so if you say to get into the school parents must attend weekly juggling classes you exclude those families too disorganised to find out about the extra criteria, those unable to attend classes and those not invested enough in education to bother.

You now have an intake with a higher proportion of parents who value education and supportive of the school so you get good results which attracts similar parents and so it goes on.

MumTryingHerBest Sun 27-Jul-14 16:31:18

mummybear701 do both schools have a similar academic performance?

mummybear701 Sun 27-Jul-14 17:14:43

Harder to judge academic performance at primary level and even raw statistics don't account for pupils with learning needs like dyslexia and so on, though the feeling was the support at the RC school for those things was second to none. Small classes and better discipline obviously helped though.

I think the RC secondary in our area had better records in the league tables than the local comp, but its pretty even in our new area in that respect.

JaneParker Sun 27-Jul-14 17:21:28

The Co of E and Catholics are actively trying to stop this and impose less religious selection on the schools but heads and other parents don't want a change. You can only take part in the life of the church if you can get yourself out of bed with an alarm clock on Sundays which chaotic families cannot do or if you don't work in the local Tesco all day on Sunday. So it is discriminating but I am in favour of very selective schools so I have no problem with that idea at all.

SilverSpring Sun 27-Jul-14 17:22:12

Mothership that sums it up beautifully, although there must be a limited number of places to ensure a level of exclusivity or competition for places too, I think? Or certainly at the faith schools I have experience of anyway.

tethersend Sun 27-Jul-14 17:27:16

I have an issue with faith schools placing LAC not of the faith (in some cases, being 'of the faith' requires baptism within six months of birth and/or attending a particular church for a particular length of time) below all other children of the faith.

They are only required to admit LAC and former LAC of the faith as top priority for admissions; this often means that LAC not of the faith cannot get a place.

I would like to see all LAC and former LAC get top priority in admissions.

MumTryingHerBest Sun 27-Jul-14 19:04:46

mummybear701 are the house prices pretty much the same around both schools?

prh47bridge Sun 27-Jul-14 21:42:24

Covert selection is a common accusation levelled at faith schools and academies but it is very rarely true. The school must follow its published admission criteria. They cannot have another set of secret criteria.

icecreamsoup Mon 28-Jul-14 09:30:11

prh47bridge: "Covert selection is a common accusation levelled at faith schools and academies but it is very rarely true"

I disagree that it is rarely true because the stats speak for themselves. However, the word "covert" makes it sound deliberate and planned. I think it is more subtle than that .... it's an effect of misguided policy, and now that people are becoming more aware of it, the culture is slowly changing.

As discussed at length on this thread, the Church of England are moving in the right direction on this in their new schools, but as an earlier poster said, existing school governing bodies are digging their heels in because they don't want their demographic to change. The Catholic Education Service, which coordinates all voluntary aided RC schools, is also digging its heels in and resisting any change.

prh47bridge Mon 28-Jul-14 11:38:55

The stats don't prove that there is covert selection going on. The selection is open and above board - you stand a much better chance of getting a place if you worship regularly. That can have effects in terms of the socio-economic make up of the school population.

icecreamsoup Mon 28-Jul-14 11:50:32

Yes, prh, I can see it is the word "covert" that you're disagreeing with rather than the word "selection". Covert suggests dishonesty. As you say, faith selection is open and above board. However its knock-on effect on socio-economic segregation is becoming clearer, and many people are unhappy about that, including people from within the church.

Perhaps a better phrase than covert selection would be "convenient head in the sand" selection.

MumTryingHerBest Mon 28-Jul-14 12:02:35

icecreamsoup do you honestly think that it is purely the faith criteria that is causing the demographic disparity? Are you really discounting the school’s academic performance and possibly inflated house prices surrounding the school(s) that is actually causing the demographic disparity? Are all people who follow a faith, middle class white families? (perhaps this is the case with the last point, I have no idea as I've not seen or heard any reference to the demographics of those attending church regularly).

As mentioned on another thread, removing the faith criteria will go only a short way to resolving the issues with local children gaining access to local schools. How else do you explain the strange demographics for other high performing state schools with no faith criteria?

What I would be very interested in seeing is a break down off all the areas in England which are facing an actual shortage of school places (i.e. no under subscribed under performing schools in the local area) that are predominantly served by faith schools. I am sure someone can produce this and it would certainly go a long way in demonstrating the negative aspect of the faith criteria.

Don't get me wrong, I am not disagreeing that the faith selection criteria has an impact on school place allocation. However, simply demanding that this one selection criteria be removed will offer a very short lived change (unless the academic performance of the school goes down over a number of years).

You mentioned on another thread that it is far harder to gain access to a faith school if you are not of the faith than it is to gain access to other schools with specific intake selection criteria. Personally I would have to question that.

I'm not sure many priests will turn away a family who asks to get their DC baptised. I appreciate that some parents may not be able to take their children to one church service every week. However, are they really unable to ask a friend/relative or baby sitter/child minder to take them instead? I did just that for one child I used to baby sit for as the mother worked weekends.

Compare this with an area which is predominantly served by schools who select on academic ability (7 out of 9 state schools). If you DC is not particularly academically able how do you suddenly make them perform at a level most 11 years would struggle? They get one chance on one day to make the cut. Do you really think this is easier?

icecreamsoup Mon 28-Jul-14 12:51:07

Mumtryingherbest: "Compare this with an area which is predominantly served by schools who select on academic ability"

Academic selection isn't allowed in new schools, and it's a quirk of history that it's still allowed in any schools at all. There are plenty of people who would like to see an end to it, including me, but that is a separate debate.

I agree with you that there are many unfairnesses in the system, and faith selection is just one strand of a more complex picture, but it is one that people are making good headway on.

You seem to be saying that as there are lots of types of discrimination, we shouldn't tackle any of them unless we can tackle them all at once. I think that in a complicated world it's important to be able to break the big problems down into smaller ones. They do all impact each other, but we can only make progress by looking at each in turn.

"do you honestly think that it is purely the faith criteria that is causing the demographic disparity? Are you really discounting the school’s academic performance and possibly inflated house prices surrounding the school"

Mumtrying, the Fair Admissions Campaign research that I linked to above compares schools with others in their immediate area, so yes, they are isolating the effects of the faith criteria as far as it is possible to do so. There are examples of community schools in the same street as faith schools with FSM stats that are several times higher.

The academic performance tends to be a product of the selection rather than the root cause of it, but of course it does feed further over-subscription. Again that is a separate issue that's true of popular community schools as well as faith schools. There are separate ways of tackling it - through good use of the Pupil Premium and schemes which encourage the most able teachers into schools that need extra support, but again, that's a different debate.

DeWee Mon 28-Jul-14 12:59:02

It's an interesting situation to look into.

When dd1 was first at juniors we were staggered by the amount we were expected to spend.
Not only did we have to provide all writing stuff excluding the paper, but we'd get two or three little notes along the lines of "to do the craft/science/project/ict/sports etc. this term we need <amount between �2 and �10> from each parent." each month.

The list of stationary stuff we were expected to provide was two columns on A4 paper-and they still asked for donations towards more stuff. Stuff they asked for would be specific too-like the Bic handwriting pens, or a specific type of calculator.

I added up in the first term how much I'd spent and it was well over �100.

Some parents reckoned it was a way of "covert selection" as it was found that some parents were not choosing that school simply on the amount of money it cost. And that it was a deliberate way of putting people who were less well off away from the school.

However, a new head came in, he took totally away the little letters (well, we might get 1-2 a year for a group coming into school at no more than �5, and considered to be voluntary) and has reduced the stationary list to about 6 things and colouring crayons optional.
However the school is now much more massively popular, probably about half as many applicants again (and it's large, so that's a significant number).
However I'd say the "middle class" element if anything has increased significantly, simply because the catchment has decreased and it's position is in the middle of large substantial properties. The "cheaper" estate at the other end of town now stands no chance of getting in should they want to.

So was the excess charging a deliberate attempt to put people off? I suspect not. However if it was, then it was nothing like as successful as making the school much more popular.

And in all honesty, I don't think many people would have chosen to go all the way across town to another junior school, a few perhaps, but despite the school on the other estate being failing since we moved here nearly 15 years ago, I have known several people choose to change to that school when they've moved into the estate simply because the hassle of getting there.
However the difference now is that if someone moves out of that estate then they can't usually get into the juniors here because the waiting list is huge, before the school became so popular there were usually spaces in each year.

icecreamsoup Mon 28-Jul-14 13:26:06

DeWee - you didn't say whether that was a faith school you were talking about or not, but it could apply equally to any type of popular school.

Schools aren't allowed to tell parents about voluntary contributions until after they're admitted to the school, in case it puts them off applying, so I'd be surprised if that was the reason they were less popular before. Possibly the new Head was just more charismatic than the old one.

MumTryingHerBest Mon 28-Jul-14 14:10:39

icecreamsoup - the Fair Admissions Campaign research that I linked to above compare schools with others in their immediate area, so yes, they are isolating the effects of the faith criteria as far as it is possible to do so. There are examples of community schools in the same street as faith schools with FSM stats that are several times higher.

How do the demographics compare to those who are practising the faith in the local area? If the majority of families attending church on a weekly basis are predominantly white middle class families and the intake criteria requires them to do just this then of course the demographics will show this.

I can't see any mention of the academic performance of the various schools (if you have a link I would very much appreciate it). I can assure you that the demographics of those attending the local non ranked schools differ very differently from those of the academically selective schools. The performance of the school can have a significant impact on the demographics.

How have these demographics changed at these schools over the last 5 to 10 years, a period which has seen a marked increase in pressure on school places? The outcome of which will see people going through the motions to tick boxes on a form in order to get their DC into a good performing local school. This is not caused by the faith criteria, it is caused by the pressure on school places.

How does this research map onto the rise in house prices closest to those schools? After all you can only buy the house if you have the financial means and I guess that the majority of those schools have fairly small catchments? This is not caused by the faith criteria, it is caused by the pressure on school places.

I would imagine many families are researching the admissions criteria and ticking the boxes to get their children into their preferred school. This has nothing to do with faith but everything to do with the parents doing whatever it takes to get their child into the school they view most favourably. When the faith criteria is removed and the game is played on who can afford the most expensive house the demographics at those schools will not have changed past the first intake after the removal of the criteria (possibly not even then).

The academic performance tends to be a product of the selection rather than the root cause of it, but of course it does feed further over-subscription. That’s an interesting comment, I can understand this comment in the context of a school the uses academic selection not so sure I understand how the faith criteria results in a better academic performance. perhaps you can enlighten me on how the faith criteria improves the academic performance of a school? Are children of faith naturally brighter?

and schemes which encourage the most able teachers into schools that need extra support. such as prioritising children of staff over and above local children in way of a recruitment incentive (admittedly makes sense at primary level but secondary level?).

HolidayPackingIsHardWork Mon 28-Jul-14 14:26:15

JaneParker is spot on.

To be "catholic" you have to be organised enough in your family life to consistently get up on a Sunday morning, herd the kids to mass, and then continue to be committed enough to take the them for the religious instruction that leads up to first holy communion.

A single mum, baptised catholic, confirmed catholic, with baptised children would have a hard time meeting this commitment if she worked all hours to support her children. Never mind all the cleaning the church business, etc. So bang, her children are shoved out. A family suffering domestic violence, would probably have enough upheaval for this to be hard to achieve too. As would a family where one or both parents are drug users.

In short, to be "Catholic" for the purposes of school selection means "A Good Catholic," not just any slapdash Catholic. So, basically, it's just "nice families" at Catholic Schools. The local community schools have to take all comers which will include more than their fair share of children from troubled homes.

That said, I come from a family with very strong catholic faith. I cannot see how it is the Catholic Church's true mission to exclude these children. It's pretty awful in my opinion. Frankly, I doubt Pope Francis would approve.

MumTryingHerBest Mon 28-Jul-14 14:43:57

*HolidayPackingIsHardWork you have to be organised enough in your family life to consistently get up on a Sunday morning, herd the kids to mass, and then continue to be committed enough to take the them for the religious instruction that leads up to first holy communion.

A single mum, baptised catholic, confirmed catholic, with baptised children would have a hard time meeting this commitment if she worked all hours to support her children. Never mind all the cleaning the church business, etc. So bang, her children are shoved out. A family suffering domestic violence, would probably have enough upheaval for this to be hard to achieve too. As would a family where one or both parents are drug users. *

Are these comments based on your experiences at particular schools and if so I would be very interested in know which schools these are.

OutOfDublin Mon 28-Jul-14 14:51:25

Look up the scandals concerning the admissions criteria for Cardinal Vaughan and The London Oratory.

It is disingenuous to suggest that a scale of points based on the parents' ability to volunteer for flower arranging and running the crèche or toddler group, and children's attendance as alter boys or in the choir does not amount to covert social selection.

BarbaraPalmer Mon 28-Jul-14 14:57:26

Totally agree with Jane - selection by faith generally excludes the children of the disorganised, as regular attendance is prioritised. This indirectly favours the well-heeled middle classes.

Further, in my area at least, getting into the sought after faith schools is not just about regular church attendance, but attendance at the the very particular two churches with links to the two strongest schools. Again, the sharp elbowed well-informed middle class parents are more likely to have take the trouble to have found this out in good time to ensure that they're not just attending church, but the right church at the right time.

One of these churches in particular does not offer any particularly family friendly services, and it always makes me chuckle how many worshippers with young children choose this church over another local one with a really good all-ages worship programme.

HolidayPackingIsHardWork Mon 28-Jul-14 14:57:44

MumTryingHerBest I'll tell you what I do know about at our local Catholic High School (not exactly Brompton Oratory, but still sought after) and two local Catholic Primaries. The local parish priest has suggested to new parents that they set up direct debits to the church. When a friend down the street refused, the priest said, according to her, "think about it, you'll need us when the kids are school aged." I also know, through other mothers at dance classes about the stress they feel getting the time set aside to clean the church, when their rota comes around.

It seems clear to me, that at least here, the local Catholic churches are using tax payer money to discipline and bribe local families into toeing the line both in terms of their behaviour and financial support of the church. Given that a good education is a powerful bribe, they have powerful incentives to make sure that the education stays good by keeping the intake "nice."

If they are going to take 90% of their funding from the state, I strongly feel they should take all comers on an equal basis like our local CofE primaries. It is a privledge for the church to receive tax payer money in order to educate children. It is honour to be trusted to do so. It should, imho, be their mission to teach all and any children without discrimination because they want to do good for all God's children.

I think it looks less like a religious mission and more like a boondoggle.

MumTryingHerBest Mon 28-Jul-14 15:00:32

OutOfDublin I don't think anyone will disagree with you there. However, from my experience, this is far from typical admission criteria for the vast majority of faith schools. However, happy to stand corrected if you want to present details to demonstrate otherwise.

MumTryingHerBest Mon 28-Jul-14 15:04:33

HolidayPackingIsHardWork - The local parish priest has suggested to new parents that they set up direct debits to the church. When a friend down the street refused, the priest said, according to her, "think about it, you'll need us when the kids are school aged." this is a pretty juicy scandal brewing me thinks.

It seems clear to me, that at least here - and here would be? General location mind, not your actual home address.

MumTryingHerBest Mon 28-Jul-14 15:06:45

BarbaraPalmer - Further, in my area at least, getting into the sought after faith schools I am assuming they are sought after because they are the only schools in the local area?

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