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.

This house would abolish state-funded faith schools

George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh have a school debating society which, from time to time, invites guest speakers to debate a motion. The Scottish Secular Society were asked to put up a speaker to propose the motion, “This house would abolish state-funded faith schools“, and I offered to act as proposer. The speaker for the opposition was Barbara Coupar, from the Scottish Catholic Education Service.

The opposition to the motion was based on arguments of the democratic will of the people; parental choice; faith schools providing diversity; a fear of doctrinaire and monolithic secularism; the gifting to the state of the church’s school assets for the public good etc..

I met some wonderful, articulate, thoughtful and passionate young people who gave the speakers a testing examination before decisively supporting the proposition. To be honest, it was such fun having the conversation with tomorrow’s citizens that I wouldn’t have minded had the vote gone the other way; but I’m so glad it didn’t.

The full text of my opening speech and closing remarks are set out below the fold. I’ve also included links to some source materials. In another post I’ll provide some more data on the scale of provision of denominational school places in Scotland.

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Why I shall reluctantly be voting No

I’ve been having a wee ranty thing on Twitter about the SNP’s recently-published white paper on an independent Scotland. Peejay (@peejaydee70) has challenged me to explain my thinking a bit more, so Peejay, this post is for you.

The process will fail Scotland

We are offered a binding referendum on the question of whether or not Scotland should be an independent country. That’s it. Everything else that really matters – what the constitutional and economic settlement might be, is unknown. Even when those matters are known, the people of Scotland will have no say in whether or not they are acceptable to them, or whether they can be satisfied that the settlement will result in a modern European nation in which everyone can flourish, both socially and economically. I am generally opposed to buying a pig in a poke, and by the time the cat’s let out of the bag, it will, of course, be too late; the deal will have been done.

Failure to establish a secession process whereby any constitutional settlement has to be put to the people who must live under it is fundamentally flawed and shows contempt for the intelligence of the Scottish people. It is also perilous for our negotiators and the nation. If the referendum is in favour of independence, then our negotiations will be in the hands of politicians for whom independence at any price, rather than the best possible outcomes for the people of Scotland, will be the priority. We’re not going to have a strong and authoritative place at the negotiating table if those representing us look like drowning men who would settle for a box of matches rather than hold out for a lifeboat. Scotland’s negotiators will have more power if they can assure the other parties that any settlement must be acceptable to the people of Scotland in a final referendum.

There are many examples of nations gaining their independence without settling such fundamental constitutional matters first, but what’s at stake is actually too important to leave until later. The SNP promise all sorts of things about our currency, borders, citizenship, trade freedom, membership of the EU (not automatic), structural debt and so on, none of which can be known until formal negotiations are concluded. That’s the time to put the formal question to the people, rather than promising everything without evidence and dressing up a party manifesto as the constitutional arrangements for a modern democracy.

I am a proud Scot, but I will not be bought or sold by a parcel of rogues without knowing the price of my head.

This impoverished vision is for a medieval society instead of a modern secular republic.

The SNP have a long and unsavoury track record of sooking-up to priests, princes and popes which does nothing to challenge the unwarranted privilege of religion and kings in our society. The white paper demonstrates the failure even to conceive of a modern European democracy by promising to retain the Crown and the place of religion in Scottish society. Instead, we should expect a clear and bold vision of a new and different sort of Scotland, rather than fossilising these archaic and unequal privileges in any new settlement.

The whole process of selling independence has been on the basis of finding the price of Yes votes, rather than the intrinsic value of independence itself. This is because Alec Salmond is an inveterate and consummate politician, not a statesman like Donald Dewar. I would that Donald were still here and leading this process. The SNP’s vision fails for me on two major grounds:

Firstly, the politicians want to keep a monarchy in Scotland. Apart from the mediaeval anachronism that is having a magical parent to an infantilised population, I have no desire to be someone’s subject, least of all to woo-believing, tree-hugging foreign loon. As a humanist, I no more wish to bow my knee to a human demi-god than to the fantastic imaginings of an iron-age sheep-herding patriarch.

Constitutionally, keeping the English crown poses serious issues – do the people have the power to rule themselves through their elected representatives in their own parliament, or do we cede powers to some manifestation of royal prerogative with secret and unaccountable privy councils making the decisions that affect our liberties? And how do we protect our independence when we involve the foreign court of a foreign king in our most intimate political decisions?

The second impoverishment of vision is that the SNP are committed to retaining the pernicious influence of kirk and church in a new Scottish society, perpetuating the sectarianism and division that causes such fundamental harm in Scotland today. This is a determination to embed the infrastructure of division into our constitution. The influence of the church in Scottish public life is deeper and more pernicious than I had ever realised before I came back to live in Scotland some nine years ago. For instance, all councils are obliged to appoint three church representatives to sit on their education boards, and many councils actually permit these religious appointees as members of full council as well, a fact which would horrify most secular Scots.

Secularism is ensuring that no religious party is privileged in law or the practice of government, at any level in a state. This protects the interests of all religious groups and ensures that none are disadvantaged by privileging another above them.

The educational apparatus at the heart of our sectarian division is promised to be continued. Denominational schools would continue unabated in an independent Scotland. In other words, publically-funded schools will continue to indoctrinate their own particular brands of religion to children as young as five and six, acting as incubators of sectarianism and division for the next generation. State-sponsored bigotry has no place in a society which strives to secure equality for people of any religious persuasion or of none.

The Scotland I would like to see would be a secular republic, not one in which priests, ministers and moderators have hold of longer levers of power than even they do now.

Two last things:

It is for the proposer of a motion to make the case why their argument should prevail. Similarly, the customer is under no obligation to buy, no matter how oleaginous the salesman. Many enthusiastic supporters of the Yes campaign would like the un-persuaded to make the contrary argument, forgetting that it is the failure of their own case which requires the greater scrutiny.

It has been said that this is the opportunity of a generation and, if we don’t grasp independence now, then it won’t come our way again for a long time. That may be so, but we always have now the opportunity to build a fairer, more just and more secular society through our existing institutions; the Scottish Government appear determined to embed injustice and inequality in independence. I would rather know that I’ve got a chance to fight for a secular Scotland in the Union than know that religion is to woven into the rip-stop fabric of a new constitution.

Peejay, you probably won’t agree with much of my argument, or even my conclusions, but I hope this gives you a bit of an insight into my thinking. I am persuadable, I just wish there were statesmen fighting for the cause of Scotland who could make me believe their vision.

Scottish friends; send John Finnie MSP your views on his bill to abolish Church appointees on Council education Committees

Thanks to Paul for bringing this to my attention, I’m now bringing it to yours.

Primate's Progress

This is the first stage of the consultation process. Here’s my input. You can find the outline of the bill, and associated questions, here. All you need do is copy the questions, give your own answers (mine below might help, but please don’t cut and paste; it spoils the whole effect), get organisations you’re involved in to consider doing likewise, and pass the word on.


Response to your proposal to remove Church representatives from education committees.

I am Paul Braterman, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, 48 Nith Street, Glasgow G 33 2AF, responding as an individual.

Q1: Do you agree that the obligation on local authorities to appoint three church representatives to Education Committees (set out in section 124 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973) should be removed?

Yes, most strongly. It is an affront to democracy, completely anachronistic and in no way representative of the current…

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The UK government has its religious knickers in a twist

Today we learn that the analysis of the 2011 Census for England and Wales shows the number of people in the countries expressing no religious affiliation at all at a record level of 25%. That’s doubled since the last census in 2001. Unfortunately, comparative statistics from the census in Scotland are not yet available, but I’d be surprised not to see a similar trend.

The results show 59.3% of the population describing themselves as Christian, a figure which was anticipated in February by the Ipsos MORI research published by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. That research suggested an outcome of 54% who would express a Christian affiliation, so pretty close to the census result. The interesting thing about the research conducted by Ipsos MORI was the detailed responses given by people who stated that they’d identified themselves as Christians in the census. Highlights:

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