11 December 2012

2012 Census of Catholic schools. Improved response, but major gaps remain
The Digest of the 2012 census of Catholic schools and colleges, published late in
November by the Catholic Education Service for England & Wales, shows that in
January there were 795,955 pupils in Catholic Maintained schools and colleges, an
increase of 0.48% on 2011, after addition of 21,452 (for 2.7% non-response).
Responding Independent schools (apparently including the nine non-Maintained
Special schools) had 42,901 pupils, an increase of 4,893, or 12.9%, in one year. But
these figures have not been corrected for non-response.
Non-response has been a problem with these census Digests. Those for 2007
and 2008 referred to non-response of Catholic schools in England & Wales of 3% and
16% respectively, but did not make it clear whether these covered Independent and
Special schools, and Sixth Form Colleges. Additional figures provided for 2009-12
allow us to calculate it for Maintained schools and colleges: 5.9% in 2009, 11.4% in
2010, 4.4% in 2011, and now 2.7% in 2012. Non-response of the Independent schools
can be calculated only for 2010, when it was 20.8%. So non-response of all Catholic
schools in that year was 11.9%,
The subject matter of the figures that are published continues to exhibit bizarre
contrasts. Politically correct subjects are given meticulous attention. So we can
calculate that in January, 2012, the Diocese of Plymouth had nine Traveller children
in its Maintained schools, while the Diocese of Wrexham had c.36 ‘looked after’
children. But we are not told how many girls there were, or allowed to calculate the
figures. We are given a great deal of information about the teachers in the Maintained
schools of each diocese, but not their gender – though this is given for heads.
However, the most regrettable gap in the data set out in these census Digests is
the age structure of the pupils. In the latest and the 2011 Digest we are given
(separately for England and Wales) the proportion of Catholics in each year group.
This cannot be converted into raw numbers, so –even at national level – it remains
impossible to compare by age (or year group) the numbers of Catholic pupils in
Catholic schools with the corresponding numbers of baptised Catholics.
The Pastoral Research Centre will shortly be publishing estimates of the latter,
by gender, for each year of age. It has already prepared five diocesan reports
comparing numbers of young Catholics with numbers enrolled in Catholic schools.
But the work is laborious and slow, and another seventeen diocesan reports remain to
be done. So, earlier this year the PRC asked the CESEW for the 2012 school census
by age (or year group). Like every other request to the CESEW since 2004 it was
The CESEW has come a long way since it abandoned the long ‘statistical
blackout’ of 1992-2006. (That problem was discussed in the PRC report Secrecy in
the Catholic Church). Having insisted for years that the Data Protection Act made the
publication of Catholic school census statistics impossible it was able in a matter of
months to publish the 2007 Digest. Another four different excuses have been made for
going no further. How we have the sixth excuse: diocesan copyright in the figures.
Why are those who administer the Catholic school system so determined to treat as
secret so much of the most important statistical data about it?

Anthony Spencer