2016: Terry Eagleton, Distinguished Professor of English Literature at Lancaster University, delivers the ninth annual Theos lecture
More than an Educated Guess: Assessing the evidence on faith schools
2nd October 2013
The Church pioneered mass education in Britain
but over the last ten years, as the ‘church school´
sector has morphed into ‘faith schools’, the role
of religious groups and institutions within the
education sector has become highly contentious.
Much of the debate is by nature ideological,
revolving around the relative rights and
responsibilities of parents, schools and government
in a liberal and plural society. Invariably,
however, ideological positions draw on
evidence pertaining to the actual experience
and impact of ‘faith schools’. Questions like – Are
‘faith schools’ socially divisive? Are they exclusive
and/or elitist? Is there a special faith school effect
on pupils? Is there anything distinct about the
educational experience offered by faith schools?
– become key to the debate.
Unfortunately, this significance is not always
matched by subtlety, with the answers given
and conclusions drawn frequently going beyond
what the evidence actually says. More than an
Educated Guess attempts to give an honest and
accurate picture of what the evidence does say.
Drawing on an extensive range of studies on
faith schools in England, the report shows
that, while there is evidence about their social
and educational impact, it is rarely simple or
straightforward, and that conclusions drawn
from it should be tentative – certainly, more
tentative than they have been of late.
Ultimately, the authors argue, we need to be
more honest about what the evidence says,
and should avoid treating faith schools as a
proxy debate for the wider question of faith and
secularism in public life.
More than an Educated Guess will be an essential
contribution to a major public conversation,
which will make uncomfortable reading for
participants on each side of the debate.