This morning, the Sutton Trust published our research into primary school admissions and social selection. For many the findings come as no surprise: there are thousands of highly socially selective primary schools that have intakes that are considerably more affluent than the neighbourhoods from which they recruit. They are more likely to be located in urban areas and in places with high levels of religious schooling.
Having spent the past day talking about the research to many, two conversations repeatedly arise.
Provision of religious primary schools needn’t be socially selective
It is a rather London-centric perspective to assume that religious schools must use religious admission criteria to fulfil their mission. Across England, Church of England primary schools often use no religious criteria. Their schools serve all in the community who wish to attend and receive an education with a Christian ethos. Their duty is to the education of the community, rather than to the children of the parents who decide to take them to church.
The situation for Roman Catholic schools is rather different because they were set up to serve a minority population. However, nowadays the number of Catholic primary and secondary places vastly outstrips numbers of Catholic church-goers. I would prefer they left remaining places open to the local community, rather than favour Anglicans and other church-goers.
The relationship between social selection and Ofsted judgements yet again raises questions about how we want Ofsted to judge schools
It has been widely reported that schools with more affluent intakes have better Ofsted judgements, on average. We go further here and show an association between levels of social selection at the school and Ofsted judgements. It should come as no surprise that schools with parents who are motivated enough to show up to church every Sunday also have a parent community that reads to their children every night, practises spellings, learns times-tables at home, and so on. It is hard for a school to be anything other than reasonably well-functioning, on the surface at least, in these circumstances.
So do we want the Ofsted judgement to tell parents whether the school is well-functioning, even if this is simply down to the favourable social context? Or do we want Ofsted to judge how schools are doing compared to those in similar social circumstances, thus raising the bar of expectations for those with social selective intakes?