Statement by the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) on "The Right to Divide: Faith Schools and Community Cohesion"


The Right to Divide: Faith Schools and Community Cohesion

A Runnymede Report, By Rob Berkeley, with research by Savita Vij
December 2008

Statement by the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ)

The Right to Divide addresses an important issue - namely the complex challenge that faith schools face in seeking to promote ‘community cohesion’. The Report provides a useful context for discussion; and it often raises questions which will be thought provoking for faith schools.

In the end, however, The Right to Divide is deeply flawed, because it is dominated by its conclusion and its central recommendation – that faith schools are divisive and that selection on the basis of faith should be ended. This perspective is suggested in the title and colours the whole report, which is too often judgmental and prescriptive rather than seeking to understand. The evidence tends to be formed by the argument; so the complex picture that the evidence might suggest fails to emerge. The successes of many schools, parents and children in coming to understand and appreciate one another’s traditions are given too little weight. Options for the future tend to be polarised and seen as mutually exclusive. At times, the report takes a one dimensional view of the road to understanding and cohesion – that it happens best in a secular context.

Finally, the Report has made no attempt to assess the practical consequences of its key recommendation. There is no discussion of the major educational restructuring that would be involved or of the possible effects on schools, faith communities and society as a whole.

CARJ has been involved with Catholic schools for 25 years, supporting them to develop more inclusive approaches to their educational mission. We have been associated with a series of studies of poverty, ethnicity, faith and citizenship in relation to Catholic schools. We do not recognise the picture this report paints, and we do not find its argument and key recommendations convincing.

CARJ and the Runnymede Trust have worked side by side in the struggle for racial justice over many years. We have drawn on the work of Runnymede and occasionally involved them in our work. In many ways, we share a similar analysis of British society and a similar vision for the future. We have many values and aspirations in common. It is from this position of genuine solidarity, and with some hesitation, that we express our deep disappointment in Runnymede’s analysis of faith schools.

Ironically, this report is guilty of exactly what it criticises in faith schools – a failure to develop an empathetic understanding that is able to reach across traditions and beliefs.

8 December 2008

Background on the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) and its work with schools.

The Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) is an independent charity, established in 1984 to give a voice to black and minority ethnic Catholics and to enable people of different backgrounds to work together for racial justice and for the common good. CARJ has a broad agenda of work on a number of fronts. Its work in education has included the following highlights.

In 1984, the Bishops Conference published Learning from Diversity. This report argued that Catholic schools, colleges and seminaries should be preparing pupils, teachers and priests for life and work in a multi-cultural society. Following the launch of Learning from Diversity, CARJ collaborated with others to organise a series of education conferences which explored the issues raised by the report, including a recommendation that serious consideration be given to establishing some multi-faith schools.

In the mid-1980s, CARJ became involved with the plight of 500 Bangladeshi children in east London who had not had any schooling for long periods (some for between one and three years). CARJ’s assistance to the Tower Hamlets Homeless Families Campaign yielded results in that a number of families were rehoused in adjoining boroughs. CARJ worked, with some success, to try to get Catholic schools in the area to take greater numbers of Bangladeshi children.

In 1988, CARJ produced a video, Out of the Shadows, a history of black people in the UK from 1550. This resource, based on a secondary school textbook by Nigel File and Chris Power, proved very popular as an educational tool and is still being used in schools today. It has recently been reproduced as a DVD.

In 1999, CARJ made a millennium grant of £2000 to the newly established Black Science Summer School at Liverpool Hope University College. The summer school encouraged and supported the high aspirations of black and minority ethnic young people. For a number of years CARJ worked closely with Liverpool Hope to support this initiative. A significant number of students who attended the summer school have gone on to study for degrees in science based subjects.

During 2001-02, CARJ assisted the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales and the Von Hugel Institute in a consultation on how to support minority ethnic pupils in Catholic secondary schools. The results of this consultation were published as Ethnicity, Identity and Achievement in Catholic Education (2003).

In 2005, CARJ began planning a schools and young people’s initiative. This led to a pilot project working with seven north London primary schools. In 2007 the pilot project was evaluated, and the Evaluation found that the project had established positive and supportive relationships with pupils that were often transforming. It also found that useful support had been offered to teachers and parents. In summer 2007, following the successful completion and evaluation of the pilot project, two members of staff were appointed to develop and expand the CARJ schools project and to establish a Young People’s Forum for World Citizenship. At the end of the academic year (2007-08) a report of the second year of the project was produced and circulated . These projects are still being developed.

Related Studies by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales and the Von Hugel Institute

Catholic Schools, Children of Other Faiths and Community Cohesion: Cherishing Education for Human Growth CESEW (2008)

Catholic Schools and Community Cohesion: CES Guidance CESEW (2008)

Formation for Citizenship in Catholic Schools. Bernadette O’Keeffe and Richard Zipfel. The Von Hugel Institute (2007)

Ethnicity, Identity & Achievement in Catholic Education. CESEW (2003)

Foundations for Excellence: Catholic primary schools in urban poverty areas. CESEW (1999)

A Struggle for Excellence: Catholic secondary schools in urban poverty areas. CESEW (1997)

Catholic Schools and Other Faiths. Catholic Bishops Conference (1997)

Learning from Diversity a study of the challenges facing Catholic schools from an increasingly multi-ethnic society. Catholic Bishops Conference (1985)

Where Creed & Colour Matter – a survey of admissions policy and practice of Catholic schools and their impact on race. Catholic Commission for Racial Justice (1975)

Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ)
9 Henry Road
London N4 2LH
020 8802 8080


Margaret Ann Fisken
(Chair of Trustees)

020 7225 0872

Richard Zipfel

020 7226 5782
07817 462119