More than one in three pupils attending Catholic schools come from an ethnic-minority background, new figures reveal.
And in London the proportion rises to seven out of 10, according to data from the Catholic Education Service (CES).
Nationally, 37 per cent of pupils at Catholic schools come from a minority background, compared with 30 per cent of pupils in all English state schools.
Pupils attending Catholic secondary schools are also more likely to be from disadvantaged families than children at other schools. More than 18 per cent of pupils at Catholic secondaries come from families who are among the lowest 20 per cent of earners in the country. Nationally, 14 per cent of pupils come from similar homes.
Paul Barber, director of the CES, was unsurprised by this. “The Catholic community in this country is very diverse,” he said. “One of the challenges is that often those very diverse communities come from poorer, more disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Professor Linda Woodhead, a sociologist at Lancaster University, pointed out that the single biggest religious migration to Britain at the moment is Christian – and, specifically, Catholic.
“Historically, the Catholic Church has largely been a church of migrants and the disadvantaged,” she said. “They had to climb their way into English society through education. Also, there’s a memory of when Catholics were marginalised in this country. So they do have a strong focus on helping the poor and the outsider.”
In London, 71 per cent of Catholic-school pupils come from a minority background, compared with 60 per cent in all state schools across the capital. The CES figures also show that one in five black children in London attends a Catholic school.
Paul Stubbings has worked at Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in West London for 26 years. Now its headteacher, he has witnessed a considerable change in the school’s demographics.
“It particularly irritates me, this lazy assumption that Catholic schools are culturally monochrome,” he said. “We’re just not.
“There’s always been a high contingent of Polish pupils in this school, anyway, because of the Catholic thing. And also a high contingent of Irish pupils, again because of the Catholic thing.
“However, in terms of non-white pupils, that has risen quite markedly. There’s a much greater diversity of languages now – kids from the African continent. School fetes are wonderful – every form of cuisine.”
The rise in the proportion of ethnic-minority pupils at Catholic schools reflects a broader national rise. In 2012, for example, 33.5 per cent of pupils at Catholic schools were drawn from minority backgrounds, as were 27.6 per cent of state-school pupils nationally.