Written evidence submitted by Catholic Education Service


Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds - evidence from the Catholic Education Service

Executive summary:





  1. The CES represents 2117 Catholic schools in England on behalf of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales across 20 dioceses. The Catholic Church provides education from early years through to further and higher education, as well as overseeing special schools and schools in the independent sector.


  1. 19.3% of pupils in Catholic maintained primary schools and 17.3% in maintained secondary schools live in the most deprived areas (which is above the national average of 13.4% and 11.7% respectively). While this data covers all ethnicities, a large proportion of our schools’ populations do come from different white backgrounds beyond ‘White British’ that face challenges for a variety of reasons.


Definitions of white pupils


  1. According to Government figures derived from the 2011 census, ‘White Irish’ people and ‘White Others’ were more likely to live in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods compared to ‘White British’[1]. The Catholic Education Service’s schools’ census shows that Catholic schools provide for more ‘White Irish’ (1.2%) and ‘White Others’ (10.6%) than the national average (0.3% and 6.6% respectively) and below the average of ‘White British’ pupils[2].


  1. When examining ‘White Others’, attention should be paid to the fact that most ‘white’ majority populations in Europe are likely to be countries where the predominant religion and religious heritage is Catholicism (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland to name a few). Considering Latin American communities, again mostly of Catholic heritage, the lack of ethnic minority recognition for these groups in the previous census, means that it is difficult to distinguish and recognise LatinX (Spanish and Portuguese speaking communities) from other ethnicities, and therefore they must be taken to be ‘White Other’. It is also known that the population growth of LatinX communities is one of the fastest growing populations in the UK. [3]


  1. Both European and LatinX diaspora communities are likely to face language challenges with higher proportions of pupils having English as an Additional Language (EAL). The 2011 census listed 7.7% of the population having a main language other than English, and the most common language after English was Polish (1 per cent of the population). [4]


  1. Although those who start school with EAL in reception are likely to have improved standards in reading, writing and maths compared to English speakers, 38% of EAL pupils started school in England after reception, after which the levels of proficiency in reading and attainment drop away quickly. Of those EAL students who start school in England by Year 6, only 18% reach the expected standards in reading writing and maths[5].


  1. Another factor in socio-economic disadvantage can be connected to larger families of four or more children, which account for 4% of the 7.9 million families with children in the UK. Information relating FSM eligibility to family size is not readily available. However almost 60% of larger families are in poverty, with 45% of white households with larger families in poverty, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation[6]. Where data on family sizes and the Catholic community is not currently collected, the correlation between faith and larger family households is based on tradition and even today is evident amongst religious communities, such as in Catholic and Orthodox Jewish families.

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities


  1. Of the five specific ethnic groups that sit under the broad ‘White’ category, the data relating to the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities shows that attainment, attendance and socio-economic outcomes compare poorly to other groupings.


  1. The Catholic sector takes a special interest in the GRT community due to these disadvantages, while also recognising the devotion to Catholicism that many members from the GRT community share. Irish Travellers especially, tend to be Catholics and send their children to Catholic schools.[7] There are various challenges that GRT pupils face within the education system which Catholic schools have identified and attempted to tackle including on absences, barriers to inclusion and transition into secondary schools.


  1. School absence is prevalent in this cohort because many members of the GRT community are transient, moving to and living in different locations throughout the year. This can significantly affect attainment levels for GRT pupils. In a study referenced in Poverty and Ethnicity in the UK, GRT pupils had the lowest levels of attainment. Many GRT pupils, particularly at secondary school level will not be registered at a school due to their movements and so will not appear on any data.[8] Lack of attendance further perpetuates the lack on inclusion that members of the GRT community may feel.[9]


  1. The Catholic GRT communities generally have a high respect for members of the clergy and other Church leaders, such as headteachers. As role models, if they form a trusted bond with the community, attendance can be increased and consequently attainment can too. Likewise, the more that attendance can be encouraged, the more GRT pupils will transition through the education system and into employment, where they can subsequently act as role models for later generations.


  1. Culturally, many members of the GRT community are not comfortable sending their children to secondary school due to the fear of discrimination, the assumption that their moral code would be eroded, and the feeling that the curriculum at school does not acknowledge their identity or culture.[10] For example, certain aspects of the curriculum, such as Relationships and Sex Education, present challenges to GRT traditions. As a result, it is important to keep parents informed and involved in the creation of the curriculum. If they feel included, they are more likely to trust the school with their children, also helping to boost attendance.


  1. Evidence shows that the earlier a child enters the school system, the earlier the school can put supportive structures in place and help to prevent issues such as absences. This is seen in the DfE document Ethnicity and Education: ‘the most effective way to promote the achievement of Gypsy Traveller children is to ensure they are able to gain early access to education during the foundation stage’.[11] Some Catholic schools have implemented initiatives to try to demonstrate to the community the value of early years education through encouraging older pupils to be familiar with the pre-school setting and therefore removing some of the wider apprehension within the community.


  1. Regarding their home learning environment, some Catholic schools have found it effective to have a staff member dedicated to visiting GRT pupils in their homes who can offer support and foster trust between GRT parents and school. This can help to improve the home learning environment because often GRT parents have limited educational qualifications and ability to support their children with homework.


  1. Challenges for the GRT community have become pronounced during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Fr Dan Mason, the National Catholic Chaplain for the GRT community, has explained that the GRT communities ‘are among those being hardest hit by the pandemic. Insecure accommodation and employment will leave many people particularly vulnerable’.[12] Whilst many children in the UK will have stable environments to be home-schooled, many GRT pupils will not have this experience due to other issues that must be prioritised above home-schooling children during this time of pandemic.


 Issues relating to Free School Meals as a measure of deprivation


  1. The committee understandably links Free School Meals (FSM) eligibility to levels of underachievement. However, FSM data does not capture all deprived groups and eligibility is often not sufficiently differentiated from take-up of FSM. Whilst, pupil premium allocation is theoretically connected to eligibility of FSM, in practice it is related to eligibility and take-up of FSM.  For example, there have been reports that Universal Infant Free School Meals have reduced the numbers of families registering for FSM, leading to reduced pupil premium funds for schools.


  1. Beyond this, certain groups are often overlooked, specifically: those just above the poverty line but in low paid or zero hours employment; certain ethnic groups (for cultural reasons and stigma associated with accepting benefits such as the Gypsy Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities; families with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and those whose parents may not physically be able to complete the forms, perhaps due to lack of literacy or comprehension. Barriers to take up of FSM, particularly in Catholic schools, are explored by St Mary’s University, Twickenham in their 2017 report: ‘The take-up of Free School Meals in Catholic schools in England and Wales’[13] The last time the Government looked at the issue of pupils not claiming free school meals was in 2013[14].


  1. The Catholic community would argue that for these reasons, FSM should not be the only indicator of poverty when determining pupil premium payments; and would call for the Income Deprived Affecting Children Index (IDACI) data to be included as well as a more balanced and even way of measuring poverty levels.


  1. The CES agrees with the suggestion of the Children’s Society who previously called for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children to be treated as a separate group for the purposes of pupil premium. This would allow schools to use these resources to target support for GRT pupils. Alternatively, consideration should be given for all eligible pupils to be automatically enrolled into FSM, which would better direct pupil premium payments across the board.


July 2020


[1] HMG (2019 )

[2] Catholic Education Service, 2019 Schools Census (Pg. 28)

[3] Queen Mary University (2016)

[4] ONS, 2011

[5] DfE (2019)

[6] Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Annual Poverty Report 2019-20

[7]Equality and Human Rights Commission, Inequalities Experienced by Gypsy and Traveller Communities: A Review, Research Report 12, 2009, p.197

[8] Platt, Lucinda, Poverty and Ethnicity in the UK (Policy Press 2007) p.75.

[9] Gould, Siobhan, ‘Promoting the Social Inclusion and Academic Progress of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Children: A Secondary School Case Study’ in Educational Psychology in Practice, 33(2):126-148 (Taylor and Francis, 2017) p.127.

[10] Gould, p.127

[11] Department for Education and Skills (DfES) (2005b). Ethnicity and Education: The Evidence on Minority Ethnic Pupils. London: DfES.

[12] Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, ‘Chaplain: Gypsies, Roma and Travellers hard hit by COVID-19 pandemic’, (1/4/2020).