A new report published by organisations supportive of church schools has admitted that there is presently little evidence that the ethos they create has much educational benefit.
The think-tank Theos and the Christian educational charity the Stapleford Centre, in a review of the existing literature, found some grounds to think that Christian-based schools have a positive impact, but cautioned that the evidence is “very limited” and that it is difficult to distinguish between the effect of schools and the impact that home and the family might have.
The report’s main call is for more research to be done into the impact that church schools have.
The findings are a further blow to the often extravagant claims made by faith school providers for the educational merits of institutions run by religious bodies but mostly or wholly funded by the taxpayer.
The Accord Coalition (http://www.accordcoalition.org.uk/), which campaigns for fully inclusive schooling, commented this week: "It is hard to disagree that further study is always helpful. However, it is wrong for the government to allow widespread discrimination against teachers and students through current faith school admissions and employment policies."
The Coalition has also cited the need for broad civic assemblies in place of compulsory collective worship and the balanced teaching of beliefs within all schools.
An Accord spokesperson added: "While evidence of the positive impact of Christian-run schools overall has been hard to come by, there have been many who have raised concerns about issues such as community cohesion and social segregation."
Accord has recently published a dossier setting out the findings of a number of independent studies on the social impact of faith schools.
Trevor Cooling, the research supervisor of the new report commented: “Given the high level of investment in Christian-ethos schools on the part of government, churches, religious organisations, and parents, the lack of available evidence is a cause of concern”.
The Theos report was written by Dr Elizabeth Green, a graduate of Oxford University. She taught at secondary level for a number of years and holds an MA in Education Management from King’s College, London.
The report claims that students at many schools with a Christian ethos generally display a more positive attitude towards religion and better spiritual health. In addition, it says there is "some evidence to support the claim that students at maintained church schools achieve more highly". It says this is not due to their selecting pupils who are more likely to achieve, but is not able to offer further explanation.
However, critics point out that other research has shown that the demography of church schools in middle class areas clearly correlates with result outcomes.
The Theos report can be accessed here: http://tinyurl.com/yg5r4ym
The Accord dossier can be accessed here: http://ekklesia.co.uk/research/independent_evidence_faith_schools
The Christian think-tank Ekklesia is one of the co-founders of Accord, which brings together a wide range of religious and non-religious voices calling for the reform of faith schools and arguing the case for inclusive education.