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The Catholic Education Service (CES) produced figures this week which it says demonstrate that Catholic schools serve more disadvantaged pupils than other faith or state-run ones.
The CES 2013 census for England shows that 18.4 per cent of pupils in Catholic primary schools are from some of the most deprived areas, compared to only 13.8 per cent nationally. In maintained Catholic secondary schools 17.3 per cent of pupils are from the most socially deprived areas compared with a national figure of 12.2 per cent.
The CES has also found that Catholic schools in England take more children from ethnic minority backgrounds – some 34.5 per cent of pupils in Catholic primary schools and 30.2 per cent in secondaries.
Paul Barber, Director of the CES said: “The makeup of Catholic schools reflects the growing diversity of our communities and these figures demonstrate the vital role that Catholic schools play in working towards a common good for the whole society and carrying out the Church’s mission to the poor.”
However the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) which opposes pupil selection by state schools on the basis of religion, claimed the CES figures are “fundamentally flawed”.
“It could well be that the pupils at Catholic schools are from the wealthier families within the deprived areas,” said the FAC in a statement.
Using the criteria of eligibility for free school meals the FAC found that fewer pupils at Catholic schools are disadvantaged than the national average.
A spokeswoman for the CES said the percentage of pupils having free school meals in Catholic secondary schools is 13.1 per cent compared with the national figure of 15.1 per cent, which was “not statistically significant”.
According to the separate CES 2013 census for Wales the number of pupils eligible and taking up free school meals is slightly below the national average standing at 17.7 per cent for Catholic primaries compared with a national average of 18.9 per cent. In secondaries it is 14.9 per cent compared with a national average of 16.2 per cent.
The census in Wales also reveals that overall, the proportion of Catholic pupils attending Catholic schools stands at just over half (57.9 per cent) – a drop from two-thirds in 2007.
The average percentage of Catholic pupils in Catholic schools in England remained relatively static at 70 per cent.