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Civitas pamphlet "Faith in Education"

- report in "Not always the answer to a prayer",
Sunday Times, 30/10/01

In a study of standards in Roman Catholic and Church of England schools, John Marks, of the Civitas research institute, has found "staggeringly large" variations in average standards between the best and the worst. He warns parents that they need to check individual schools, and not assume that all have high standards.

Marks, who served on several education advisory bodies under the Conservatives and is currently an education adviser to the Church of England, warns that the problems of bad teaching, low standards and low morale are just as acute in the worst church schools as they are in the worst state comprehensives.

And while performing, on average, marginally better than their secular counterparts, some church schools are still falling short of government targets.

"The churches have got plenty of underperforming schools," says Marks. "It is very disturbing that even at the age of seven, many schools of all kinds are behind the standards that they are expected to reach. By 14 there are large numbers of church as well as local education authority schools where pupils are three or more years behind in English and mathematics."

Marks examined whether pupils had reached the national standards that they were expected to have met for their age. He then worked out an average score for pupils' ability in just about every school in England.

The research, to be published next month in a Civitas pamphlet called Faith in Education, shows:

Pupils at both Church of England and Roman Catholic schools are achieving, on average, at the age of seven, slightly better than the national targets for their age. But by the time they are 11 and 14, their results are substantially below national curriculum targets - by about six months at 11 and about 15 months at 14.

Rates of progress for pupils at church schools are also poor - on average, they fall well below the progression they should achieve between the ages of 7 and 11 and they make half the progress they should achieve between 11 and 14.

But it is the variations in standards between one church school and the next that concerns Marks most. He has found that in the worst church schools, 11-year-olds have fallen behind national targets by two to three years. In the best church schools, 11-year-olds are a year ahead.

"The church needs to look not just at its average performance but enter into the debate as to why some schools are doing much less well than others," he says.

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