Proximate causes

So there I was trying to recover from the abysmal and measly face-off between Meath and Kerry in the football championship. I tried ironing and then hung out some washing to try and take my mind to a place that approximated engagement. Instead I turned to the paper I had printed out late on Friday and had been trying to avoid all weekend. It is called Religious schools in London: school admissions, religious compsoition and selectivity and appeared here (sub needed). It is written by Rebecca Allen and Anne West. As someone who has coordinated a project along vaguely similar lines here in Ireland, this seemed like a decent empirical start to getting my brain in gear.

The abstract extract (!) gives you a sense of where we are:

This paper is concerned with segregation and school selectivity in secondary schools with a religious character in London, England.

In the study they use, amongst other things, a proximity scale to highlight how under- and over-represented pupils from households with lower income are in certain London schools with a religious background. This is dealt with very sensitively in the paper given the political and cultural difficulties with much of this material. In one response to this paper in the same edition of the journal, another author uses perhaps one of the best acronyms I have seen in a printed publication: MASCs or Media Anti-Simplification Caveats (Grace). These are statements used by the original paper’s authors to minimise the political inflammability of particular data outcomes, such as:

‘there is no direct evidence that religious schools are acting to overtly exclude pupils from certain ethnic or religious backgrounds…’

despite the fact that the data suggest that there is some evidence of this. Use of MASCs is a clever way to keep the Independent or the Daily Mail off your back in their routine trawls of their academic sources and I’ve been known to use one or two myself, without knowledge of the acronym. Apart from a desire to carry out a similar study here in this country (i.e. I haven’t a hope) the paper also points to the fact that what counts as a religious admission test can be a very vague and messy way of ensuring relative faith-based homogeneity, if that is what you want.

This country, at this time, would be served greatly by a broadly similar study of school admission policies using both geographical as well as non-geographical datasets. Trouble is though, we do not really have any ‘thick‘ data when it comes to school admissions.