LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Data newly released shows that Catholic schools in England and Wales take in 50 percent more pupils from the most deprived backgrounds than state schools.

The Catholic Education Service (CES) says just under a fifth of all pupils in Catholic statutory education meet the highest national deprivation criteria, compared to a 12.8 percent England average. Similarly, the CES says a quarter fewer pupils from the more affluent areas attend Catholic schools.

“The number of Catholic school pupils on free school meals is marginally lower than the national average, as many parents are ineligible due to immigration status or low-paid employment, with barriers to take-up including the complexity of applications and financial privacy concerns,” the CES says.

The data also says students from ethnic minorities make up 45.5 percent of the Catholic school population, compared to an England state school average of 37.4 percent — for Wales the Catholic figure is 35.6 percent, and the Welsh average is 14.3 percent.

There are 2,169 Catholic schools in England and Wales, educating more than 850,000 pupils, making up 9 percent of the state-funded sector. Religious schools in the United Kingdom receive government funding, unlike in the United States.

The CES reports the Catholic Church is the biggest provider of secondary education and the second-largest provider of primary education overall. There are also four Catholic universities in England.

“Many Catholic schools were established to help poor immigrant families during the nineteenth century, and this tradition of providing education for those most in need has continued ever since,” said Paul Barber, the director of the CES.

“Today Catholic education outperforms national GCSE [General Certificate of Secondary Education] averages for English, Maths and Religious Education by up to seven percentage points, a testament to the sector’s success given the much higher proportion of pupils coming from the most deprived households in the country,” he said.

The CES said a total of 56.4 percent of students in Catholic schools are Catholic, as are 43 percent of the 51,650 staff employed. Of the 334,273 non-Catholic students, just under half are from other Christian denominations. The largest non-Christian religion represented is Islam, with 10.8 percent of non-Catholic pupils being Muslim.

Despite these numbers, the CES found that only 0.04 percent of students are withdrawn from acts of collective worship such as Mass and prayers in assemblies.

The CES also said Catholic schools are continuing to convert into becoming Catholic academies, with a 13 percent increase in the past year.

Academies in the UK are state-funded schools. However, unlike other state-funded schools, they’re independent from local authorities, meaning that they aren’t overseen by city and town councils. As a result, they have more freedom in how the school is run.

The CES says there are now 921 Catholic academies in England, run by 79 multi-academy trusts, with 46 percent of Catholic state-funded schools being academies.

Follow Charles Collins on X: @CharlesinRome