Call to end unfair faith school admission arrangements on primary school national offer day

April 17, 2015

crayon-photoOn Wednesday (April 16th) families throughout England and Wales seeking a primary schools place for a child received notification about the place that has been allocated for them. Over a third of state funded schools are faith schools and most prioritize by faith when oversubscribed, meaning this week that many tens of thousands more families will have lost out on account of their beliefs.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘Selection by faith undermines community cohesion by segregating children on ethnic and increasingly racial lines. It is also open to manipulation and leads to much greater socio-economic segregation between schools, boosting the rankings of faith schools in league tables and conferring privilege on those with the right beliefs or whose family have played the system.

‘The religiously selective admissions system is often deeply unfair and divisive. Rather than undermining integration and denying children equality of opportunity, state funded schools should be made open to all, regardless of faith. In a liberal democracy the life chances of children should not be determined by religious discrimination by schools, and nor should discrimination be a part of school life.’

In December 2013 an exhaustive study of all faith secondary schools in England by the Fair Admissions Campaign showed a correlation between religious and socio-economic selection. It found that, on average, the faith secondary schools that did not have a religiously selective oversubscription policy admitted 3.87% more pupils entitled to free schools meals (a key government measure of deprivation) than would be expected if the schools admitted local children. In contrast, those faith schools that had a fully religiously selective oversubscription policy admitted 26.71% fewer such children.

A survey commissioned by The Sutton Trust and published in December 2013 showed that 6% of parents in Britain with a child currently at a state school admitted to attending church services that they would have not otherwise, so that a child could go to a Church School. Among parents of the most affluent socio-economic group A this figure rose to 10%.


Socio-economic selection due to religious selection

The Fair Admissions Campaign’s December 2013 findings can be found at the ‘Overall averages’ page at A briefing is also available at

In September 2014 further findings were revealed, including that grammar schools were found on average twice as socio-economically selective as religiously selective schools, but that because religiously selective schools were more numerous they (at the primary and secondary stages combined) make a twice as great an overall contribution in making the state funded school system in England more socio-economically segregated than grammar schools do.

The Sutton Trust’s survey can be found in its report ‘Parent Power’ at Considering only 25% of pupil places in the state funded system in England and Wales are at faith schools and that many of these schools do not reward Church attendance (many instead show preference to baptised or local children), the survey points to widespread abuse at those that do.

In January 2014 the Pastoral Research Centre released data suggesting that baptism may be being manipulated. The Centre showed that while the number of baptisms of children under the age of one in England and Wales was in long term decline, the number of baptisms of those aged over one had risen dramatically over the previous decade. The change is consistent with parents having children baptised as the child gets nearer to school age, as part of a strategy to increase their chance of being admitted to a popular Church School (and educated school alongside more aspirational families).

Faith school performance due to the pupils admitted

It has long been established that the stronger exam performance at faith schools is explained by the social and ability profile of their pupils:

  • 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’.
  • 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’.
  • Faith Primary Schools: Better Schools or Better Pupils? (2009) by Professor Stephen Gibbons and Dr Olmo Silva concluded that ‘results show that pupils progress faster in Faith primary schools, but all of this advantage is explained by sorting into Faith schools according to preexisting characteristics and preferences … 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’.

Serving the affluent distorts the mission of Church Schools

Religious selection places faith schools in a conflicted position, as its inflates their denomination’s worship and baptismal figures, while the performance of schools is boosted by the admittance of children from more affluent families. However, most Church Schools were set up to educate the disadvantaged. The National Society, which created most Anglican schools, was established to provide schools for children from poor families. Similarly the precursor to the Catholic Education Service of England and Wales was named the ‘Catholic Poor School Committee’.

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