Does denominational school provision in Scotland match religious affiliation?

The usual rules of such questions apply; the answer is, of course, no.

I’d better begin, by stating yet again that my beef is not against any particular church, or Christianity, or religion per se; this post drills a bit deeper into the information I’ve dug out since being asked to speak at a school debate on the motion “This house would abolish state-funded faith schools”.

It is a common trope of the proponents of state-funded faith schools that they meet the needs and desires of faithful parents to provide a confessional education for their children, but not out of their own pockets, rather the state’s.

In preparing for the debate at George Heriot’s School yesterday, I took a look at the Scottish Government’s own statistics on schools as at September 2016 [link, xls]. I’ve abstracted from that data the following data on the number of school places by denominational or non-denominational status for each local authority area in Scotland.

Local Authority Non-denominational Episcopalian Jewish Roman Catholic Total
Aberdeen City 23,302 788 24,090
Aberdeenshire 38,100 38,100
Angus 15,932 163 16,095
Argyll & Bute 10,645 508 11,153
Clackmannanshire 6,854 256 7,110
Dumfries & Galloway 18,855 1,147 20,002
Dundee City 14,598 4,733 19,332
East Ayrshire 15,478 1,617 17,095
East Dunbartonshire 14,024 3,609 17,633
East Lothian 14,282 708 14,990
East Renfrewshire 12,273 170 5,563 18,006
Edinburgh City 44,819 6,827 51,646
Eilean Siar 3,673 3,673
Falkirk 19,947 3,322 23,269
Fife 47,761 4,817 52,578
Glasgow City 42,394 29,353 71,747
Highland 32,781 52 278 33,112
Inverclyde 5,940 4,701 10,641
Midlothian 11,645 1,573 13,218
Moray 12,339 415 12,754
North Ayrshire 16,323 3,294 19,617
North Lanarkshire 30,772 21,456 52,228
Orkney Islands 2,949 2,949
Perth & Kinross 17,693 54 1,591 19,338
Renfrewshire 18,278 6,634 24,912
Scottish Borders 15,293 204 15,497
Shetland Islands 3,538 3,538
South Ayrshire 13,621 1,403 15,024
South Lanarkshire 35,243 11,783 47,026
Stirling 11,683 74 1,581 13,338
West Dunbartonshire 7,640 5,713 13,353
West Lothian 22,667 6,060 28,727
Total 601,344 180 170 130,098 731,791

Comparing the 2011 Scottish census data for Roman Catholic affiliation, again by local authority area, with the Roman Catholic share of school places, gives the following table:

Local authority Roman Catholic population (2011 census) RC denominational school places (2016) Over/ underprovision % Total school roll Over/ underprovision (places)
Aberdeen City 8.90% 3.27% -5.63% 24,090 -1356
Aberdeenshire 4.80% 0.00% -4.80% 38,100 -1829
Angus 6.70% 1.01% -5.69% 16,095 -916
Argyll and Bute 11.30% 4.56% -6.74% 11,153 -752
Clackmannanshire 9.40% 3.60% -5.80% 7,110 -412
Dumfries & Galloway 6.50% 5.73% -0.77% 20,002 -154
Dundee City 18.30% 24.48% 6.18% 19,332 1195
East Ayrshire 10% 9.46% -0.54% 17,095 -92
East Dunbartonshire 22.30% 20.47% -1.83% 17,633 -323
East Lothian 9.70% 4.72% -4.98% 14,990 -746
East Renfrewshire 22.20% 30.90% 8.70% 18,006 1567
Edinburgh City 12.10% 13.22% 1.12% 51,646 578
Eilean Siar 12.30% 0.00% -12.30% 3,673 -452
Falkirk 12.30% 14.28% 1.98% 23,269 461
Fife 8.50% 9.16% 0.66% 52,578 347
Glasgow City 27.30% 40.91% 13.61% 71,747 9765
Highland 7.60% 0.84% -6.76% 33,112 -2238
Inverclyde 37% 44.18% 7.18% 10,641 764
Midlothian 9.80% 11.90% 2.10% 13,218 278
Moray 6.60% 3.25% -3.35% 12,754 -427
North Ayrshire 14.70% 16.79% 2.09% 19,617 410
North Lanarkshire 34.60% 41.08% 6.48% 52,228 3384
Orkney Islands 2.80% 0.00% -2.80% 2,949 -83
Perth & Kinross 8.90% 8.23% -0.67% 19,338 -130
Renfrewshire 22.70% 26.63% 3.93% 24,912 979
Scottish Borders 6.30% 1.31% -4.99% 15,497 -773
Shetland Islands 4.10% 0.00% -4.10% 3,538 -145
South Ayrshire 9.90% 9.34% -0.56% 15,024 -84
South Lanarkshire 22.20% 25.06% 2.86% 47,026 1345
Stirling 12.30% 11.86% -0.44% 13,338 -59
West Dunbartonshire 33.10% 42.78% 9.68% 13,353 1293
West Lothian 16.10% 21.10% 5.00% 28,727 1436

I want to add a note of caution about religious affiliation as recorded by the census. Census returns are completed by the “head of the household” and are likely to attribute to children the religious beliefs of the parents, potentially over-representing religious belief across the whole population. This is why census data is popular with religious apologists, because it provides the highest numbers when compared with other surveys of religious belief when individuals are canvassed.

Charted, sorted by the proportion of Roman Catholic denominational school places by local authority, this data shows:

RC Denominational School Provision Against Religious Affiliationby Scottish Local Authority Area

There are a number of interesting observations that fall out from this analysis.

  1. The distribution and density of Roman Catholic denominational schools represents the historic settlement of Irish Catholics migrating to Scotland over the last couple of centuries. In fact, I count my ancestors in this number.
  2. Assuming that the proportion of denominational provision hasn’t really changed in those local authorities since Roman Catholic schools started to receive state funding 100 years ago, there appears to have been no attempt on the part of the Church nor the local education committees to ensure that denominational provision met local demographics.
  3. Again assuming that the proportion of denominational provision matched the proportion of the population of the same confession, it would seem clear that the number of confessing Roman Catholics has declined significantly in the last 100 years. If I can track down some historic census data, I’ll add that in.
  4. This results in over-provision of denominational places in the West of Scotland (with the exception of the expanding and affluent East Dunbartonshire) and an under-provision in many other parts of Scotland, particularly the north-east.
  5. There are no Roman Catholic denominational schools on any off-shore island in Scotland with the exception of the Isle of Bute, which lies just off Argyll in the Firth of Clyde and bumps into the mainland in a heavy swell.

If the Roman Catholic church were genuine about providing choice to its congregants, would we not expect them to be seeking to establish new denominational schools, particularly in places like Aberdeen and the Isle of Barra? Why are the islands altogether not worthy of the same parental choice as the West of Scotland?

Why are local education committees content to continue with significant over-provision of denominational schools in places such as Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire and Inverclyde?

Ultimately, many of the arguments that proponents make for the continuation of denominational or faith schools in receipt of state funding come down to retaining embedded privilege. A good school will be a good school without giving one religion priority. Surely good Catholic teachers will still be good Catholics – and good teachers – in non-denominational schools? And perhaps less time will be wasted, as it was with my own schooling, in telling children to make space on their chairs for their guardian angels.

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