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|
|Argyll & Bute||10,645||508||11,153|
|Dumfries & Galloway||18,855||1,147||20,002|
|Perth & Kinross||17,693||54||1,591||19,338|
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)|
|Argyll and Bute||11.30%||4.56%||-6.74%||11,153||-752|
|Dumfries & Galloway||6.50%||5.73%||-0.77%||20,002||-154|
|Perth & Kinross||8.90%||8.23%||-0.67%||19,338||-130|
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:
There are a number of interesting observations that fall out from this analysis.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.