Thinking Anglicans

Assessing the evidence on faith schools

Updated Wednesday

Theos has published a report: More than an Educated Guess: Assessing the evidence on faith schools.

The Bishop of Oxford has welcomed the report: Bishop of Oxford welcomes report by think-tank Theos on faith schools.

The full text of the report can be downloaded as a PDF from here.

Theos says:

The Church pioneered mass education in Britain but over the last ten years, as the ‘church school´ sector has morphed into ‘faith schools’, the role of religious groups and institutions within the education sector has become highly contentious.

Much of the debate is by nature ideological, revolving around the relative rights and responsibilities of parents, schools and government in a liberal and plural society. Invariably, however, ideological positions draw on evidence pertaining to the actual experience and impact of ‘faith schools’. Questions like – Are‘faith schools’ socially divisive? Are they exclusive and/or elitist? Is there a special faith school effect on pupils? Is there anything distinct about the educational experience offered by faith schools? – become key to the debate.

Unfortunately, this significance is not always matched by subtlety, with the answers given and conclusions drawn frequently going beyond what the evidence actually says. More than an Educated Guess attempts to give an honest and accurate picture of what the evidence does say. Drawing on an extensive range of studies on faith schools in England, the report shows that, while there is evidence about their social and educational impact, it is rarely simple or straightforward, and that conclusions drawn from it should be tentative – certainly, more tentative than they have been of late. Ultimately, the authors argue, we need to be more honest about what the evidence says, and should avoid treating faith schools as a proxy debate for the wider question of faith and secularism in public life.

More than an Educated Guess will be an essential contribution to a major public conversation, which will make uncomfortable reading for participants on each side of the debate.

John Bingham at the Telegraph has written: Faith schools protests dragging children into ideological ‘battleground’ – bishop. He quotes Andrew Copson of the BHA as saying:

“Although the report masquerades as a new, impartial, survey of evidence surrounding faith schools, it is in fact mere apologetics in favour of such schools.

“The report omits evidence, misrepresents evidence and even makes basic errors about types of school and types of data that totally undermine any attempt to take it seriously…”


The British Humanist Association has now published a detailed criticism of the report, which can be read in full as a PDF here, or see this article: Worse than an educated guess: BHA responds to Theos report on ‘faith’ schools.

Theos has responded to this, with More than an Educated Guess: a Response to the British Humanist Association or there is a fuller document available as a PDF here.

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Rev'd Laurence Roberts
Rev'd Laurence Roberts
10 years ago

It is hard to see how denominational schools on the ground are or could be truely ‘faith schools’. Because dogmas are not faith. And the personal, individual faith of most of the UK citizens is not reflected or nurtured in these cosseted schools.

Schools are to create environments of learning and discovery. When they work this way, personal faith, not dogma may be nurtured and explored….

The BHA may have a point, perhaps.

Fr Paul
Fr Paul
10 years ago

Adam Smallbone’s experience of having a good faith school in his parish (Rev Series 1 Episode 1) was a deja vu moment for me and I suspect many other clergy. I do not believe making parents jump through church attendance hoops to get into an Ofsted excellent graded CofE school which may be the only school in the local community creates a positive image for the church. I also find myself wondering what an ‘Anglican ethos’ is as my Parish’s ethos is entirely different to the Conservative Evangelical parish down the road…

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x