There is a real conflict between the Church of England's proposals that church schools should become more distinctively Christian, reaching out to children in order to foster "the long-term well-being of the Church of England" (Archbishops' Council, June 2001), and its claim to serve the whole community through its schools.
Everyone wants better schools, but few would want segregation on the grounds of religious belief, or could justify expansion of selective specialist and religious schools at the expense of others. Church and other religious schools benefit from selecting supportive parents and well-behaved, relatively prosperous pupils, as even they (and OFSTED) sometimes admit. Last week, the head of a C of E school in the North-west was reported as saying: "The fact that we select those who are supported by parents is the key defining factor in the kind of pupils we send out into the world." Not all schools can have this luxury.
A recent report from the National Assembly for Wales noted that when free school meal entitlement (the usually accepted measure of pupil deprivation) was taken into account, differences in exam performance and absenteeism between church and other schools were not statistically significant. We have every reason to suppose that a similar analysis in England would find similar results.
Marilyn Mason Education officer British Humanist Association 47 Theobalds Road London