Accord Coalition contests accuracy, balance and intent of Theos faith schools report

October 1, 2013

The Accord Coalition has labelled a new report from the think tank Theos about evidence driving public debate about faith schools, titled ‘More than an educated guess’, as ‘Little more than a whitewash’.

Theos’ paper is set to be formally published this coming Wednesday (October 2nd). It purports to offer a ‘dispassionate’ and ‘balanced summary of the existing evidence’ about the ‘impact of state-maintained faith schools on society and students’. However, Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, has sought to refute this.

Rabbi Romain, said ‘The report is so biased in favour of current practices of faith schools that it should be renamed “Little more than a whitewash”. It ignores the large body of academic studies which indicates the divisive impact of faith schools both socially and economically. The paper is often superficial, and arguments and facts are often spun to serve particular aims under a guise of balanced analysis. It functions like a research paper sponsored by tobacco firms asserting that cancer is a yet unproven consequence of smoking. It would have been more helpful to admit the problems arising from faith-based admissions policies and then suggested ways of addressing them.’

In addition to contesting the report’s claim that ‘the evidence suggests that faith schools in general do not promote social division on racial and ethnic lines’, other key criticisms of the report made by Accord include that it:

  • Ignores Academy and Free faith schools altogether
  • Frames debate around faith schools as more entrenched and more entrenched on religion and beliefs lines than is the case
  • Presents public debate as largely one between those for and against faith schools
  • Misrepresents critics of the status quo in faith policy, and ignores their motives and objectives. For example, the paper states that the Accord Coalition wishes to advance ‘inclusive education without regard to religion or belief’, when Accord is an enthusiastic advocate for Religious Education and school assemblies. The report fails to note the recourse by many critics of the status quo to shared values and widely held notions of fairness; a wish for schools to boost the growth of mutual understanding; a desire to prevent religious discrimination and to make all state funded schools suitable for all, regardless of religion and belief
  • Ignores large swathes of the public discourse around faith schools. These include questions about:
    o    the morality, ethics and proportionately of schools discriminating on faith grounds, both in pupil admissions and staff employment
    o    how religiously discriminatory practices impact on a school’s ethos and on other schools, such as by also making their neighbours more segregated
    o    the kind of ethos faith schools should seek to uphold
    o    how can society deny calls from non-Christian and non-Jewish faith groups for their own faith schools
    o    the impact if many more non-Christian and non-Jewish faith schools are opened that can operate in narrow and discriminatory ways
  • Ignores research from the Fair Admissions Campaign in August showing the impact of religious selection in causing schools to have fewer pupils requiring Free School Meals (FSM), and quotes an inaccurate claim from the Catholic Education Service of England and Wales that fewer eligible children might claim FSM at Catholic Schools because of the associated stigma, when FSM stats are based on those children the government calculates are entitled to receive them, not those who actually receive them
  • Assesses positively the claim by the Church of England in its report Strong schools for strong communities that faith schools in the secondary sector contributed more highly to community cohesion than community schools, when the claim was based on Ofsted data looking at how proactive schools were in following their legal duty (introduced in 2007) to promote better community cohesion, not in their overall contribution to community cohesion. For example Ofsted took no account of school’s admissions policy, assemblies or provision of Religious Education – all vital areas when considering schools overall impact on social cohesion
  • Promotes soon to be published research by Professor Trevor Cooling investigating ‘the impact of a distinctively Christian education’, which itself appears politically motivated to directly counter the work of Accord. In his pitch for funding for this project Professor Cooling wrote:

‘7. However a very effective, political lobby group exists, which campaigns against schools with a Christian ethos and other “faith” schools. This has published a 40-page dossier of research which, it is claimed, provides the evidence to show that faith-based approaches are harmful to community cohesion and do not benefit the wider population. At the annual conference of the Association of Anglican Directors of Education in June this year the question asked was “what is the evidence for the positive impact that a distinctively Christian approach to teaching and learning has?” In these days of evidence-based policy, this key group highlighted the urgent need for robust evidence that demonstrates the impact of a Christian approach to teaching and learning. Without this evidence of impact, it becomes increasingly difficult to argue for the value of a distinctively Christian contribution.’

Accord has never taken a position against schools with a Christian ethos or faith schools. The research pitch makes clear that is not intended to impartially build on an evidence base, but starts with a presupposition that positive evidence will be generated.


Notes

The Accord Coalition maintains a database bringing together and summarising a wide range of information from a host of reliable sources, providing both objective facts and findings based on high quality research related to policy of and practice by faith schools at http://accordcoalition.org.uk/research/.

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