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Top marks for church schools

13 December 2007

by Margaret Holness, Education Correspondent

THE primary-school test results for England, published last week, provided more good news for Church of England and Roman Catholic schools, which between them account for one quarter of all primary schools.

Of the 100 top-scoring schools, 40 were C of E and 20 were Roman Catholic foundations. Anglican primaries were among the ten most successful schools in 134 of the 150 local education authorities in England, several of them taking up to six of the leading places.

Two Anglican schools — Combe C of E, in Witney, Oxfordshire, and St John’s, Brigstock — were among the top ten nationally. Another, St Andrew’s, in Stockwell, south London, was among the ten most improved schools in the country.

For the first time this year, the tables included an “added value” measure that takes into account the achievement of schools relative to the social and economic circumstances of their intake.

The fact that church schools have strengthened their position under the new measure confirms what church education officials have always pointed out: that they have above-average success with disadvantaged children. Many Church of England primary schools are in poor urban areas.

The chief education officer for the Church of England, the Revd Janina Ainsworth, said: “These results knock on the head the myth that church schools do well because they cherry-pick. Our primary schools are overwhelmingly neighbourhood schools, and do well because of their strong commitment to their local communities.”

David Jesson, a professor of economics at York University, commented on the results in The Daily Telegraph on Thursday of last week. Professor Jesson, who has made a study of the intake of faith secondary schools in London, said it showed that mainstream faith schools had socio-economic and ability profiles almost identical with that of the society they served — and still helped their pupils to gain substantially better results at GCSE than their counterparts.

“Faith itself can be part of a disciplined approach to life, and that is one area where faith schools can have an advantage,” says Professor Jesson; but he warns that they must continue to be open to all.

The tables also show that the “challenging circumstances” of some church schools can affect their test results, as they do those of similar community schools.

Three Anglican primaries, in King’s Lynn, Sandwell, and Wolverhampton, were among the 20 with the poorest test results.

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