THE TABLET THE I NTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC WEEKLY
Founded in 1840
BARRIERS TO SOCIAL MOBILITY
The remarkable series of television documentaries made by Michael Apted, which began with 7 Up in 1964 and continued with 56 Up this week, has charted the lives of a dozen or so British children. It was evident from this week’s episode that for those educated in the 1960s, being born into very ordinary circumstances is no bar to enjoying prosperity. For the first few decades after the Second World War, politicians of every stripe had a particular interest in enabling those born in poverty to emerge out of it.
Yet something since seems to have gone awry. The backbench Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has complained that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are posh boys who do not understand ordinary people. The Coalition Cabinet is dominated by those from particularly privileged backgrounds. One of its members, Education Secretary Michael Gove, is sufficiently disturbed by the dominance of the privileged in public life and the likelihood of those being born poor to stay poor to say that it is morally indefensible.
One particular effort at improving social mobility is the “pupil premium”, whereby £2.5 billion a year of extra funds are provided for schools to help narrow the exam achievement gap between poor children and others. The onus is on individual schools to show they need the money – the proof required being the numbers of their pupils whose families are poor enough for them to get free school meals.
Free meals – or more accurately, the lack of them – has been a stick with which opponents of faith schools have whacked Catholic schools. The Guardian newspaper claims that government data shows three-quarters of Catholic primaries and secondaries have a more affluent pupil population than their neighbourhoods, making these schools middle-class enclaves.
But as Jeremy Sutcliffe’s report in our Education Supplement shows, the real issue is much more complex than The Guardian would have its readers believe. Other measures of Catholic schools show that they have significant numbers of deprived children. But many of the poorest pupils are the children of migrants who often do not know about the meals benefit or are reluctant to claim it. Eligibility data is based, of course, on those who make themselves known to be eligible.
The issue now for Catholic schools is not just about rebutting the undeserved claims about failing the poor but also ensuring that they do encourage parents to register for meals. There a risk that the children miss out not only on nourishment but on additional funds through the pupil premium.
There is more, though, that Catholic schools can do for poorer children. Studies show parenting makes the most difference to a child’s life chances, with small class sizes highly significant too. Increased support for families and improved pupil-teacher ratios can also be part of the Catholic ethos.
The Catholic Church can be proud of its educational achievements of the post-war era. It enabled several generations of children to thrive materially, spiritually and intellectually. That success story has brought the hierarchy certain headaches – an educated laity comfortable in challenging the clergy; churches and schools sometimes left empty in former poor Catholic areas. But not all Catholics have moved on, and poorer migrant Catholics have arrived in Britain too. They need the concern and commitment of the Church – and pupil premiums.
PARKED, BUT THE METER IS TICKING
Is there a right time to talk about gay marriage? Or to put it another way, is there a wrong time? In answering the latter question, certainly one Cabinet minister of the Coalition Government – a Government whose leaders are publicly committed to its introduction – would seem to think so. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond made it plain this week that he thought there were more important and immediate issues on the minds of the British electorate. Talk to the man on the street, said Mr Hammond, and he’ll talk of job cuts and static wages while prices at the petrol station and supermarket continue to rise. Gay marriage, said Mr Hammond is clearly “not the number-one priority”.
Not quite so clearly perhaps, Mr Hammond does not say he is opposed to gay marriage. While his boss, Prime Minister David Cameron, continues enthusiastically, in public at least, to embrace the concept and urge its practice, much to the chagrin of many of the Conservative rank and file, Mr Hammond, no doubt with one eye on the polls and the other on party unity, merely says now is not the time to talk about it. Indeed, pointing out to Andrew Marr on BBC television that there was no provision in the Queen’s Speech for legislation on the issue, Mr Hammond said “… there’s a consultation going on and we should look at and listen to what people are saying in response to that consultation”.
So if for ostensibly politically partisan reasons there would appear to be a wrong time to talk about what many see as a profound change in one of the key institutions that binds
Britain’s fabric together, is there a right time? Mr Hammond, by extension might say, well, yes, when the economy has picked up. He could, although he probably won’t, by way of illustration point to the boom years of the Blair Government during which legislation introducing same-sex civil partnerships was passed; or even to the heady years of the late 1960s during which homosexual activity itself was legalised. But at a time when economic stringency and the cutting back of the welfare state are biting deep into the country’s social sinews and piling ever more pressures on to families, many argue that now is the time this cornerstone of the nation should be defended.
In the United States, President Barack Obama, after much havering, has finally given same-sex marriage his backing. It is noticeable that issues of personal morality are surfacing in the presidential campaign at a time when the US economy is improving, as if providing space to explore broader issues.
Back in Britain, it may suit some politicians and churchmen to park same-sex marriage in the quiet cul-de-sac of a consultation. But gay marriage is unlikely to go away, even if Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone does not push it through Parliament this time. What can be learnt from recent months is that the terms used to debate the issue will affect public opinion. Downing Street was delighted by Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s strident intervention, when he spoke out against gay marriage, for it only served to ally people to Number 10’s cause. It seems that it is the economy, rather than the cardinal’s comments, which has stalled reform – but only for the time being.
2 | THE TABLET | 19 May 2012 COLUMN
7 CL I F FORD LONGLEY
‘Bishop Bill, as everyone calls him, has been the victim of a grave miscarriage of justice’
9 CHRISTOPHER HOWSE’S
PRESSWATCH ‘The Dalai Lama’s oracular status has penetrated even The Sun’
1 2 P E T ER HENNESSY’S
THE LION AND THE UNICORN ‘The word in Whitehall has been that Mr Cameron wants a way out of Lords reform’
1 3 PARISH PRACTICE 1 4 NOTEBOOK 1 5 L ETTERS 1 6 THE L I V I NG S P I R I T 1 7 PUZZLES
1 8 EAMON DUFFY
Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel
J UDITH WOLFE The Face of God Roger Scruton
LAURA KENWORTHY Absolution Patrick Flanery
2 1 F EATURE
Lucy Wooding Royal Devotion, Lambeth Palace Library
THEATRE Mark Lawson Belong
C I NEMA Francine Stock Even the Rain
T E L EV I S I ON John Morrish 56 Up
1 9 MAY 2 0 1 2
4 Trafficking’s human face Laura Sheahen
Many vulnerable girls in Nepal are tricked into leaving home and working as prostitutes by women in their own communities 4 Conference on human trade Kevin Hyland
How to tackle the second largest criminal enterprise after the arms trade was the topic at a church-organised gathering in Rome 6 Shared space – a gem of an idea Barney White-Spunner and Thomas Tugendhat The Diamond Jubilee could be the moment for ancient divisions to be healed by Anglican churches opening to other denominations
8 Tormentor on my doorstep Terry Tastard
One priest’s offer of food to a homeless man led to a prolonged ordeal of harassment that drove the benefactor to the brink of insanity 1 0 Power to the people Greg Clark
Restoring local control to the great cities of England will lead to enhanced prosperity for them, says the Minister for Cities 1 1 Our takeaway children Paul Vallely
The recent case of sexual grooming of underage girls in Rochdale has raised questions about whether culture led to the men’s crime
■ SPRING EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT
S 1 Schools that feed a need Jeremy Sutcliffe
How poorer pupils are missing out when free meals go unclaimed S 2 The teachers who inspired me Clare Short S 3 Let’s hear it for girl power Peter Henriot
Why the Jesuits set up a co-educational school in rural Malawi S 4 Accentuate the positive Victoria Combe
The mother of a dyslexic child on her hunt for a suitable education S 6 Setting up a stall for God Tony Currer
A university chaplaincy offers students a different perspective on life S 8 School report Christopher Lamb
2 5 THE CHURCH I N THE WORLD
Morality to fore in US presidential race 2 9 NEWS FROM BRITAIN AND I RELAND
Bishop sacks trustees who oppose redundancy plan 3 3 OBITUARY Phyllis Bowman
COVER PHOTO: KATIE ORLINSKY
19 May 2012 | THE TABLET | 3