Faith schools best at building social unity

Secondary schools run by faith groups are better at building community cohesion than secular schools, a new report has revealed.

The report’s findings will challenge claims that faith schools are “divisive” and cause segregation between cultures and religions.

The research, led by Prof David Jesson of the University of York analysed the Ofsted reports of various schools.

It found that secondary schools run by faith groups scored eleven per cent higher for their promotion of community cohesion when compared with secular schools.

The report also concluded that faith-based schools outperformed secular schools by almost nine per cent when it came to tackling inequality.

The study, commissioned by the Church of England, analysed the Ofsted ratings given to 700 primary schools and 400 secondary schools for promoting community relations.

Researchers gave schools a score of one if they were rated “outstanding”, through to four if they were deemed “inadequate”.

Secondary schools run by faith groups scored on average 1.86 compared to secular schools which scored on average 2.31.

Faith-based primary schools and secular primary schools came out on par scoring an average of 2.2.

Of the 74 faith-based secondary schools surveyed, almost a third (32 per cent) were rated “outstanding” at community cohesion, while only one in seven (14 per cent) of its secular counterparts were awarded the same standard.

Prof Jesson concluded there was “clear evidence” that faith schools were awarded “substantially higher” grades for community cohesion than other schools.

The study states that this finding is particularly relevant to the debate about schools’ contribution to community cohesion.

It says it “runs completely counter to those who have argued that because faith schools have a distinctive culture reflecting their faith orientation and are responsible for their admissions that they are ‘divisive’ and so contribute to greater segregation amongst their communities”.

“This is clearly not supported by this most recent Ofsted inspection evidence”, he added.

Faith schools also performed better in strategies to tackle discriminatory behaviour between students, achieving an average rating of 1.68 compared to secular schools which scored on average 2.03.

The Revd Janina Ainsworth, Chief Education Officer for the Church of England, commented in her introduction to the report: “Schools with a religious foundation have a particular role in modelling how faith and belief can be explored and expressed in ways that bring communities together rather than driving them apart”.

She continued: “Schools contribute most actively towards nurturing a shared sense of belonging across communities when they are clear about their own distinctive values and how that grounds their engagement with other groups at local, national and global levels.

“Promoting community cohesion is not about diluting what we believe to create a pallid mush of ‘niceness'”, Revd Ainsworth stated.

“For church schools, community cohesion is more than ticking a box for the government. It is about acting out the values articulated in the school’s mission statement in ways that serve and strengthen our human relationship with our neighbours”, she added.

In June the editor of the Times Educational Supplement (TES) criticised a series of attacks on faith schools by secular groups and think-tanks who accused schools with a faith-based ethos of undermining social cohesion.

Gerard Kelly, in his editorial, said that instead of fearing faith schools, secular liberals who believe in diversity should support parents’ “right to educate their children in an ethos of their choosing”.

“One cannot celebrate diversity by restricting choice”, he argued.

Mr Kelly pointed out that most faith schools offer their communities “excellent teaching and support”.

In October last year a poll revealed that six in ten people believed that parents should be allowed to choose a state school for their child based on their own religious, moral or philosophical considerations.

Over 1,000 adults were asked questions about state-run faith schools by polling company Opinion Research Business on behalf of the Church of England.

The majority, 65 per cent, agreed that Church of England schools are not the same as local authority run state schools.

Of those, six in ten people said church schools don’t contribute to divisions in society, and eight in ten believe they provide a broad and balanced education.

More than three-quarters of those who think church schools are different from state schools said they promote good behaviour and positive attitudes, help young people develop a sense of right and wrong, produce responsible members of society and have a caring approach to pupils.

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