Churches urged to help the hungry by stopping the exclusion of children entitled to Free School Meals

February 21, 2014

The Fair Admissions Campaign – the single issue and ecumenical campaign focused solely on preventing religious discrimination in admissions to state funded faith schools, which Accord co-launched last June – has appealed to the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales and the Church of England to issue guidance for its schools to not select pupils by faith so as to ensure they better serve children from deprived backgrounds.

It follows two high profile interventions on the issue of poverty and hunger in society from leading religious figures. Last week the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, described cuts and changes in the provision of welfare benefits as ‘punitive’ and a ‘disgrace’. Meanwhile a group of religious figures, including 27 of the Church of England’s 59 Bishops, wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister yesterday calling upon the Government to ensure that people do not go hungry.

Research from the Fair Admissions Campaign in December showed that religiously selective state schools were socially exclusive. It found Church of England secondary schools that did not select children by religion admitted 4% more pupils entitled to Free School Meals (a government indicator of deprivation) than would be expected if the schools admitted children living locally. In stark contrast those Church of England schools that sought to select all their pupils by faith if sufficiently oversubscribed admitted 31% fewer children entitled to Free School Meals than would be expected if they admitted local children.

Overall, Church of England secondary schools were found to admit 10% fewer children entitled to Free School Meals than expected. Almost all Roman Catholic secondary schools select pupils by faith if oversubscribed (the 2002 Education Act prevented faith schools from turning non-adherents away if under-subscribed) and they were found to admit 24% fewer pupils entitled to Free Schools Meals than lived locally.

The socio-economic bias at religiously selective schools was further demonstrated in December by a survey by the educational charity the Sutton Trust showing that 10 percent of upper middle class parents admitted to false Church attendance so their child can go to a top performing Church School. This is despite faith schools:

  • only educating a quarter of pupils at state funded schools in England and Wales
  • many not showing preference to children on faith grounds or not being oversubscribed
  • many not rewarding church attendance in their over-subscription policy (most Catholic schools only show preference to children who are baptised)
  • regular church attendees only comprising 10% of the adult population

Meanwhile further manipulation of admissions to religiously selective schools was suggested in January when The Daily Telegraph revealed a surge in the last ten years in the number of children approaching school age who had been baptised by the Roman Catholic Church.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, said ‘Many people of faith will be appalled that schools that should focus on the poor have become so elitist. The Church of England and Catholic Church in England and Wales can make an immediate impact on the life chances of children from deprived families by issuing guidance to their schools to not select pupils by faith, but to serve all children in their local community.’

Head of Public Affairs for the British Humanist Association, Pavan Dhaliwal, said ‘No state funded institution should discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief and the more a school discriminates by faith the greater the extent to which it is likely to socio-economically segregate. If the Churches want to demonstrate their commitment to the common good they should open their schools to all local children.’


Research by the Fair Admissions Campaign into the degree of socio-economic selection at state funded secondary schools in England can be found under the drop down tab ‘Show table’ at the ‘Overall averages’ page at

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, inferred in an interview with The Times in November that faith schools that do not select by faith better serve the common good. He said:

‘What you are seeing in the Church schools is a deeper and deeper commitment to the common good. There’s a steady move away from faith-based entry tests … It is not necessary to select to get a really good school. There are unbelievably brilliant schools that are entirely open to all applicants without selection criteria apart from residence, where you live, and which produce staggeringly good results. It’s a question of — and you can point to them all over the place — it’s a question of outstanding leadership.’

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