Faith school sector serves the affluent and shuns the deprived shocking new research finds

March 5, 2012

New research from the Guardian today has shown the extent to which England’s faith schools are skewed towards serving the middle classes, and shun many of the most deprived in society.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘Faith schools should serve the whole community, but if they are giving preference to children from the most aspirational families at the expense of others, they are both promoting social inequality and undermining their own mission. We urge the Government to close the faith loophole that allows discriminatory practices in pupil admissions’.

It is widely known that faith schools admit fewer than the national average of pupils in receipt of free schools meals, which is used by government as a fair measure of deprivation. A parliamentary question in 2009 from Adrian Sanders MP showed that 15.7% of pupils in schools were eligible for free school meals, but that this figure declined to 11.5% of pupils in faith schools.

However, new statistical analysis by the Guardian has conclusively shown that this disparity is not due to faith schools being located in more affluent areas, but that most faith schools admit a smaller proportion of children in receipt of free school meals than both the average for schools in their local authority area, and a smaller proportion of such pupils than are present in area covered by the first three digits of school’s respective postcode.

The newspaper’s data shows that 76% of Catholic primaries and 65% of Catholic secondaries have a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than is representative of their postcode, while for  Church of England primaries this figure is 63.5% and 40% for Church of England secondaries.

In contrast, the research found that schools without a religious character were far more likely to mirror the proportion of poor pupils in their local area – just 47% of non-faith primaries and 29% of non-faith secondaries took a smaller proportion of free school meals than is representative of their postcode.

Worryingly the research indicates that Church of England primary schools are also increasingly serving the better-heeled in their communities. In 2010, 72% of Church’s primaries had a lower proportion of the poorest pupils than other schools in their local authority area, whereas in 2011 the figure had risen to 74%. Meanwhile, some 63.5% of the Church’s primaries had a smaller proportion of the poorest pupils than their postcode in 2011, compared to 60% the year before.



An interactive map produced by the Guardian showing how inclusive local faith schools in England are of pupils in receipt of free school meals can be viewed at:

Chief Schools Adjudicator, Dr Ian Craig, found in the 2010 ‘Office of the Schools Adjudicator Annual report’ that religious admissions criteria at some faith schools indirectly helped pupils from particular backgrounds over others. In an interview upon the release of his report Dr Craig observed that:

“… generally, you might have in a middle class area a lot of women who aren’t going to work who might be able to go in and clean the church. It may well be in a more working class area there isn’t that ability. We’ve come across some issues where that sort of thing, we feel, benefits the white middle class area and doesn’t necessarily benefit some of the immigrant children that might live in the community … I don’t generally think we’ve come across schools that have done that to skew their intake specifically, but our view is it has been skewing the intake.”

Can Competition Improve School Standards? The Case of Faith Schools in England (2009) by Dr Rebecca Allen and Dr Anna Vignoles found ‘… significant evidence that religious schools are associated with higher levels of pupil sorting across schools, but no evidence that competition from faith schools raises area-wide pupil attainment’ p1.

Faith Schools: Admissions and Performance (2009) by the House of Commons Library reviewed evidence on the relationship between admissions and performance in faith schools and found that ‘recent research on primary schools suggests that performance difference can largely be explained by prior attainment and background. The remaining differences are due to parental self-selection and selection methods used by some faith schools’ p2.

Faith Primary Schools: Better Schools or Better Pupils? (2009) by Stephen Gibbons and Olmo Sliva argued that ‘it appears that most of the apparent advantage of faith school education in England can be explained by differences between the pupils who attend these schools and those who do not’ p1.

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