CES director Oona Stannard has issued the following statement in response to the Runnymede Trust's report on faith schools.
The Catholic Education Service for England and Wales (CESEW) has received the Runnymede Trust's new report on "faith schools" Right to Divide? with concern about the relationship between the alleged evidence and the conclusions drawn.
The goal of increasing equality and opportunity for all will not be achieved by asking everyone to be the same. The ethos of a school with a religious character is formed, not simply by the name above the door, but by the school community actively living out the faith that is professed within. Attempting to eradicate social problems by ignoring excellence and distinctiveness and by sidelining the needs of a significant section of society, in our case the Catholic community, can only be a backward step. Parents continue to want Catholic schools for their children and we believe that they should be able to make that choice, in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Sadly, Catholic schools are often portrayed inaccurately. They were actually serving and educating the poorest and most marginalised in society before the state was making schools available to the neediest. Today, Catholic schools continue to serve some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. Catholic schools are more ethnically diverse on average than other maintained schools (according to independent OfSTED statistics) and their social profile as indicated, for example, by free school meals levels, is very similar to other maintained schools.
The word "Catholic" means "universal" and since community is part of the essence of being Catholic it is hardly surprising that Catholic schools should seek to build strong relationships and solidarity with the wider Catholic community here and abroad, including agencies such as the world-renowned Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), Caritas-Social Action and the Catholic Association for Racial Justice. The global Catholic Church provides support for education and development in places where often no other support is available.
The CESEW applauds Catholic schools for the great strengths they display in the work they do that builds bonds within the Catholic community and beyond. We support and encourage our schools to work with local communities and further afield. In this endeavour we work joined by our common humanity. We are mindful of the exhortation of the Prophet Micah to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6: 8); values that we expect Catholic schools to be fulfilling wherever they are and with whomsoever they encounter.