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Worse than an educated guess: BHA responds to Theos report on ‘faith’ schools

The Christian think tank Theos today published a new report More than an Educated Guess: Assessing the evidence on faith schools. Although it claims to be a fair review of existing evidence in contrast to what it claims are unbalanced positions taken by others, an analysis of the report by the British Humanist Association (BHA) has found it to be partial, misleading, and unjustified in a number of its conclusions.

Findings made by the BHA include:

  • The report confuses its definitions of maintained schools, Academies and Free Schools, and totally ignores the latter, despite the fact they now constitute about half of secondary ‘faith’ schools.
  • The report omits many other important factors essential to a rounded analysis of the debate around faith schools, such as the decline of religious practice, the impact of ‘minority faith’ schools, human rights, children’s rights, employment law, homophobia, the content of the curriculum and special educational needs – meaning it is a very partial overview of the situation.
  • On socio-economic selection, the report fails to properly consider the evidence and arguments around Free School Meals, omitting important research (such as the Fair Admissions Campaign’s recent findings) and taking the Catholic Education Service’s very weak arguments at face value. Its conclusion also largely boils down to ‘two wrongs make a right’.
  • On ethnic selection, the report repeatedly misrepresents the race thinktank Runnymede Trust’s report Right to Divide?, as well as ignoring its conclusions entirely. The report omits other important pieces of research in this area, and fails to engage with hugely important criticism of research based on Ofsted’s measure of community cohesion.

However, the report did reach the welcome conclusion that ‘faith’ schools need to do more to prevent socio-economic selection in admissions saying, ‘For Christian schools in particular, there are strong reasons to reassess policies around pupil selection, to avoid what looks like a degree of indirect socio-economic sorting…’

Responding to the report, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘Although the report masquerades as a new, impartial, survey of evidence surrounding “faith” schools, it is in fact more like apologetics for such schools. The report omits evidence, misrepresents evidence and even makes basic errors about types of school and types of data that undermine its claim to be taken seriously. We have produced a detailed analysis of its many flaws, which runs to pages.

‘The majority of the evidence on state-funded religious schools indicates they are an unfair and unpopular part of our state education system which the majority of people in Britain want finished with. Focussing on how to do that in a way that builds social cohesion and respects freedom of belief would be a more fruitful activity for those genuinely interested in social cohesion and a better task than assembling a patchwork of misleading assertions to buttress a divisive system.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 020 7324 3072.

Read Theos’s report: http://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/files/files/More%20than%20an%20educated%20guess.pdf

Read the BHA’s response: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Worse-than-an-educated-guess-British-Humanist-Association-response-to-Theoss-report-on-faith-schools.pdf

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

View the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/schools-with-a-religious-character.pdf

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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