The PRC is one of the two successors to the NDS - the other being the CEC - when the NDS was closed down on 28 February, 1964. It took to Cavendish Square College all the NDS library, archives and databank that were not taken over by the CEC. With it came Spencer, Dr Daniel Woolgar OP, three salaried members of staff and two volunteers working with Woolgar. The enterprise, ‘owned’ by Spencer, eventually got the name of the Pastoral Research Centre.

Until he was elected Prior of Haverstock Hill, Woolgar continued work on the 1961 Census of Clergy and Religious, assisted by a Vocation Sister, who worked on the data about women religious. A Preliminary Report on the Census had been circulated by the NDS, followed by a volume on the secular clergy of the 17 dioceses that had cooperated.. Woolgar and his assistants had already prepared another 29 major reports on the Census at the NDS but none of these had been typed or duplicated for distribution. The main focus of his work at the PRC was on women religious, but it all stopped after Woolgar’s election.


Spencer continued the Parish Census Service that had been tested by the NDS, and introduced a number of developments in the light of the nine carried out by the NDS. He carried out further censuses in Catholic parishes. The system was modified for use by local Councils of Churches, and an ecumenical census was carried out at Bishops Stortford in 1966. Great emphasis was placed on the training of Parish Registrars, to maintain the parishioner records once the census had taken place. The work was expanding rapidly when the Trustees of the Cavendish Square Graduate College were put under pressure to close it on grounds of cost per student. It closed in 1969.

The main preoccupation of the PRC in the period 1964-70 was the project funded by the Ford Foundation, on the educational, health and social action work of Christian Church agencies in the Third World. The PRC was entrusted with one element in this, a documentary study. A comprehensive Register of Christian Church-related teacher training institutions in Africa, Asia and Latin America, 1964-5, was published in 1968, in three languages. A similar Register of hospitals and clinics was typed, ready for publication in 1970, but has never been published. A major report on statistics and information about the Churches’ work in development was published in 1968, and an article on statistics about students of  Christian teacher training institutions. Registers on technical schools, cooperatives, credit unions and community development projects had not reached report stage when the PRC was obliged to move to N. Ireland in 1970, and neither had sets of statistics already collated. Due to the demands of conflict resolution in  N. Ireland in the early 1970s, no further progress had been achieved by the time the whole project had been concluded.

The other major enterprise of the later 1960s was a study commissioned by the NZ Bishops, on the organisation of Catholic education in New Zealand. After extensive preparation in England the fieldwork was done in 1967, and two sets of conclusions were reached quite quickly. The first set of  conclusions was reached half-way through the open-ended interviews with key figures in the NZ education system. It was that the Catholic school system was near to collapse, that the existing policy of alliance with elite private schools serving the rich was doomed to failure, that a permanent solution lay in ending the Church’s century-old policy of hostility to the State education system, and instead should seek integration into it.

The second set of conclusions emerged after returning home. They involved assessing the documentary and oral evidence collected in the light of Rudge’s extension of the Weber typology of organisation. Rudge had added two ideal types: the participative/democratic/human relations model developed by Mayo and his associates in the 1930s, and the systemic/organic model developed by Burns and Stalker in the early 1960s.

The preparation of the report was long delayed by endless problems at the University of London’s Atlas computer centre. When the centre closed the work had to be switched to the Atlas computer at Harwell. When that too closed there was no computer in the world that could handle the MVC program. Tabulation and analysis of the data collected in surveys of teachers, parents and sixth formers ended, and a ‘ final’ report could not be prepared.

The NZ Bishops refused to accept delivery of the 550 page Interim Report in 1972, but the main lines of the recommendations on integrating the Catholic schools into the State system had been discussed with civil servants, politicians, union leaders, educationists, representative lay leaders, and Protestant Church leaders during the fieldwork, and then put to the Bishops before Spencer left New Zealand. They were spelled out in detail in the draft Interim Report, which was sent to a set of referees, who included a Diocesan Director of Education, soon to be a bishop. They were known in outline  to large numbers of people before Spencer left, and in detail to the half-dozen referees. The new Labour Government went ahead with negotiations on integration, and just before Parliament was dissolved in 1975 it passed the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act, described by the historian, Rory Sweetman, as the most important development in the NZ education system in a century.

Work was done for the Scottish Bishops in the mid and later 1960s. After several years the contract was not renewed. Then the shutting down of the Atlas computers left three jobs suspended, unfinished. They remain among others that have yet to be completed and reported.

In 1970 the PRC re-located to Belfast, on the appointment of Spencer as lecturer in the Dept of Social Studies at The Queen’s University of Belfast. The move to N. Ireland, with the whole Newman Collection, might have been avoided, and the work could have continued in England. The General Secretary of the Marble Arch Trust had proposed that the Trust should provide core-funding, which would guarantee an income for the growing Spencer family, and that the Trust would then commission research on topics that interested it. The Trustees accepted this proposal, but two of them required confirmation that the Hierarchy would approve the arrangement. When approached, Bishop Worlock made it clear that such approval would not be given.

While in N.Ireland the main focus was on conflict resolution. This involved two social surveys of the Ballymurphy community, sponsored by the Community Relations Commission and the Dept of Social Studies. During the 1970s there were many conversations with paramilitaries, endless discussion and literature, active membership of the Belfast Education & Library Board, offices held in the N. Ireland Parents’ Association and the All Children Together (ACT) movement, broadcast and other debates, papers read at several university conferences, at those of the Sociological Association of Ireland and at several of the Social Studies Conferences. But most telling was observant participation (not participant observation) – above all, observation of the activities, schooling and conversations of the five Spencer children.

This led to the conclusion that segregation on an ethno-religious basis, in housing, marriage, education, the economy, sport and recreation, the media and politics was self-reinforcing, and obstructing the conflict resolution processes normal in an advanced, democratic, consensual society. The opportunities for successful intervention by an English Catholic academic were greatest in the field of education, so between 1973 and 1980 a model was developed and expounded of what the structure and culture of an ‘integrated’ school would be – a school where  the children of Catholic and Protestant parents would get a Christian education on a footing of equality.

An early version of this model was used by Spencer in 1977 to draft what became the Education (Northern Ireland) Act, 1978. A more comprehensive (and very successful) model was used in the development of Lagan College, founded in 1981 as an independent school supported by charities and foundations, but where parents paid fees on a scale related to income, until it was admitted to the State grant-aided system in 1984.

Following the success of Lagan College the PRC prepared a report in mid-1984, The development of integrated education in Belfast: a planning study for 1984-9. After discussion with ACT members living in Belfast it was sent to the ACT committee members and trustees, who rejected it. Following this decision Spencer founded late in 1984 the Belfast Trust for Integrated Education (BELTIE), which opened two integrated schools in redundant buildings in September, 1985. A year later they were both operating from the premises of former State schools in N. Belfast. In the late 1980s the N.I. Council for Integrated Education was set up, to manage the rapid expansion of the integrated school system, their fund-raising and their early entry into the State grant-aided system. In September, 2012, over sixty were operating.

The experience of this development of a system of integrated schools in Northern Ireland,  following failures in the 1820s, the 1830s, 1923 and 1972-3, has thrown considerable light on the conditions for success, the tensions in any such movement, the consequences of different organisational models – systemic, charismatic, bureaucratic and participative, in the Weber-Rudge typology – and in particular on the relevance of Michels’ Iron Law of Oligarchy, and the unconscious fears of leaders that success might destroy their roles. This has yet to be explored in a detailed report.

Between 1972 and 1990 the emphasis on conflict-resolution left little scope for other work. But a number of papers were read at academic conferences, articles published in newspapers and scholarly journals, and broadcasts on radio and television. Among articles, one stands out, ‘Demography of Catholicism’, published in a special edition of The Month, in April, 1975, to mark the tenth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. Quite contrary to the expectations of the author, this revealed that a series of pastoral and demographic indicators in English Catholicism had declined steeply since the end of Vatican II, and that the falls had not started after Humanae Vitae, 1968, but in 1962-3, the year the Council opened, and when the ‘Pill’ first became available in England & Wales. The article was vigorously attacked by leaders of the Catholic Establishment , and the editor told Spencer that it had provoked more controversy than any other article ever published in The Month.

The PRC was in abeyance between 1990 and 2000, with its library, databank and archives in storage. It then took two or three years to erect shelving, sort it and then re-house it near Taunton. When work was resumed it gradually became clear that the statistical system of the Catholic Church in England & Wales had changed – for the worse – since the Spencers returned in 1990. The CEC had taken over a very effective system in 1964, and had operated it very well until 1991, when its work was taken over by the Catholic Education Service (CES). It seems that the CES did not produce the annual pastoral and population statistics for the years 1992-6, and was unwilling to search its archives to fill gaps in the years leading up to 1991. Worse, it was adamant that it would not supply Catholic school census data for years after 1991, when the last of the CEC school census figures were published. Eventually it found tables of the pastoral etc. statistics for 1997 and 1999, and passed them to the Secretariat of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CBC), which kindly passed them to the PRC. It also found the untabulated returns for 1999 sent in by parishes, and passed them to the Secretariat, which tabulated them and sent the tables on to the PRC. From 2001 all pastoral etc. statistics have been collected, edited and tabulated by dioceses, and their totals sent to the Secretariat for collation. This most important statistics system reverted to that which was – for excellent reasons – replaced by the Bishops in the later 1950s.

This breakdown of the pastoral and school statistics systems had a profound effect on the work of the PRC. Instead of concentrating on compiling, editing and publishing unfinished work of the NDS and PRC, spread over five decades, priority had to be given to trying to persuade the CBC and the CES to rationalise the systems disrupted in 1991-2, and to replace the missing data with reasonable estimates. In the case of the CBC’s pastoral statistics this involved editing the spreadsheets, identifying non-credible figures, comparing them with those published in diocesan directories and the Annuario Pontificio, and then asking the relevant dioceses to check them. Eventually this allowed the PRC to publish in 2007 Vol. I of its Digest of statistics of the Catholic community of England & Wales. Work on the Supplement, 2005-11, has made little progress, as has work on Vol. II.

The refusal of the CES either to supply copies of Catholic school census statistical reports, or to allow access to its statistical archives, has accentuated the diversion of time from other work. Copies of leaked CES census reports contradicted statements of Catholic leaders. After fruitless exchanges of letters an article was submitted to Network. Catholic Education Today on the whole saga. Archbishop Nichols, CES Chairman of Trustees, persuaded the editor not to publish it. In return the CES Director gave undertakings that led to the publication late in 2008 of a Digest of the 2007 census, followed by Digests of later censuses. There were manifest flaws in these Digests; they focussed on data that demonstrated political correctness, and omitted very important statistics on the ages and gender of pupils in Catholic schools. Above all, the published data revealed high non-response rates, fluctuating wildly from year to year and diocese to diocese. Meanwhile, the refusal to publish statistics for the years 1992 to 2006 was maintained.

In another effort to persuade the CES to change its policies the PRC published in 2010 a report on Secrecy in the Catholic Church. The case of Catholic school statistics in England & Wales. This led to no change in the refusal of the CEC to allow access to its unpublished data. The PRC then developed a programme to ‘re-construct’ the annual school census data collected and tabulated by the CES by invoking the Freedom of Information Act and requesting Local Education Authorities (LEAs) to supply tables giving numbers of pupils in Catholic schools, by age, gender and school type. This has allowed the PRC to prepare reports, diocese by diocese, giving detailed statistics based mainly on the LEA data, but supplemented by the CES tables leaked to the PRC, and data from diocesan directories. By the end of March, 2012, reports had been completed for five dioceses. Alongside this work on 2009 data the PRC started tabulating the data of its own 1955 school census, to provide reliable comparative figures. It then extended the ‘re-constructions to the 2010 census, and started to use the leaked CES reports to prepare tables and analyses for 2003. The PRC published two reports introducing the 1955 and 2009 series of diocesan school census reports.

This programme of work confirmed the Digest evidence of the very poor professional quality of the CES statistical work, in marked contrast to the generally good quality of that of the CEC, its predecessor, mainly arising out of the response record. But clear evidence emerged of extraordinary mathematical incompetence, in the calculation of percentages, and evidence of the lack of rigorous editing, resulting in disparities in the numbers of school of particular types, as between the leaked CES figures and the information given in diocesan directories.

The resignation of the Director of the CES late in 2011 opened up the possibility of change. The CES has made it clear that it is making a new start in connection with the 2012 census and the resulting Digest, focussed on improving the non-response rate. But it remains unwilling to provide copies of statistical tables for the years 1992-2006, and has turned down an application for age-and-gender specific data from the 2012 census.

Notwithstanding the diversion of time, energy and resources to the work described above, a considerable number of other reports and papers have been published by the PRC since its was re-activated in England. Among the first was a Report to Parishes in 2004, using the same approach as the 1975 article that had shown the Bishops to be in denial. This time there was no denial. And Vol. I of the Digest of Statistics, published in 2007, made it possible to see, statistically and in detail over five decades, the change from crisis of growth to rapid decline. Meanwhile, the still unresolved conflict over access to the secret Catholic school statistics has proved extremely functional in identifying the nature of the emerging crisis over Catholic schools. What is a Catholic school? And what is it for?

The PRC remains committed to publishing NDS and PRC reports and papers as and when time and resources permit. The intention is to make most of them freely accessible and downloadable on this website. A few will have to be ordered and paid for.