Each year the Catholic Education Service conducts a Census of every Catholic school and college in England and Wales. The data collected includes Catholicity and ethnicity of staff and pupils, staff qualifications, take-up of free school meals and data on RE teaching. In 2012 the response rate was nearly 98%, including both maintained and independent schools.
The majority of schools complete the Census using SIMS, a Management Information System (MIS). SIMS answers 80% of the Census questions automatically and therefore ensures a high degree of accuracy. Schools that do not use SIMS complete an Excel spreadsheet. The completed Census returns are processed by the CES who produce spreadsheet reports and raw data that are used by the CES the diocesan education offices.
In 2007, in response to requests that the CES Census data be made more widely available, the first Digest of Census Data for Catholic Schools and Colleges was published. The digest contains most of the summary data that is sent to the dioceses, presented in tables and graphs. However, it goes much further, by providing comparisons with national data and also by including additional data not included in the Census, specifically graphs representing information from the Income Deprivation Affecting Children (IDACI) index. It is now possible to identify trends in the data since 2007 and each year the digest includes comparisons with figures from previous years.
In addition to the digest, the CES also produces a Key Facts card the size of a bookmark. This is popular with some politicians and journalists who need access to recent figures on Catholic education in an overview format. The 2012 Key Facts card shows that, on the 2012 Census day there were 2166 Catholic schools in England, educating 808,207 pupils and employing 45,607 teachers. The CES Census data, when supplemented with other, value-added data, shows the quality of education that Catholic pupils are receiving. For example, 75% of English Catholic primary schools have Ofsted grades of good or outstanding, compared with 64% nationally. At GCSE, Catholic schools outperform the national average English and Maths SATs scores by 6%.
The Census gives the CES the authority to work with the Department for Education and Catholic MPs, Peers and Welsh Assembly members, Unions and other organisations with vested interest in Catholic schools and colleges. For example, to be able to quote figures from the 2012 Census which state that 34% of pupils in English Catholic maintained schools are from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared to 28% nationally, helps to argue against the charge that Catholic schools are ethnically selective.
Despite the evidence of the data, it is sometimes unwise to quote the results without looking at the broader picture. For instance, figures for take-up of free school meals suggest that there are fewer pupils in Catholic schools who are in receipt of free school meals than there are in all schools nationally (free school meals are available to children from parents who are working under 16 hours a week or are earning less than £16,190 a year). However, there is evidence to suggest that, although they are entitled to free school meals, some ethnic groups with a large representation in Catholic schools, are unwilling to take up their entitlement. The CES is looking to conduct further research using IDACI data to obtain an accurate measure of hardship in Catholic schools.
Over the past three years there has been a very gradual decline in the percentage of Catholic pupils in Catholic schools, particularly in secondary schools. Again, the reasons cannot be taken at face value and require further analysis. The rising pupil population in Catholic schools show that the quality of teaching and results in Catholic schools are attracting larger number of pupils from a range of faith and non-faith backgrounds, with raw figures of numbers of Catholic pupils remaining relatively constant. However, this statistic will require constant monitoring in future Census analysis as the CES remains concerned over the withdrawal of free school transport by many local authorities and the financial implications for many Catholic parents who wish to send their children to Catholic schools.
Whatever interpretations may be put on the Census data, the key facts speak for themselves: more children are being educated in Catholic schools and are achieving results that compete with the best schools nationally.
The 2012 Census digest will be available on the CES website (catholiceducation.org.uk).
Robert Rushworth is the Data Manager and Census Coordinator for the Catholic Education Service