Does religious selection lead to social-economic selection?

April 14, 2016

Socio-economic selection due to religious selection

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 over subscription policy admitted 1.40% fewer 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 over-subscription policy admitted 30.43% fewer such children. The Fair Admissions Campaign’s findings can be found at the ‘Overall averages’ page at http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map/. A briefing is also available.

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

A survey commissioned by The Sutton Trust and published in December 2013 showed that 6% of parents in Britain with a child 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%. The Sutton Trust’s survey can be found in its report ‘Parent Power’. Considering that only 25% of pupil places in the state funded schools in England and Wales are at faith schools, and that some of these faith schools do not reward Church attendance (many instead show preference to baptised or local children, or are simply not oversubscribed), the survey points to widespread abuse at those that do show preference to families with a record of Church attendance.

In January 2014 the Pastoral Research Centre released data suggesting that baptism may be being manipulated – the admission policy at most Catholic schools shows preference to baptised Catholics. 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).

A 2015 poll for ITV found 12.6% of parents admitted to ‘having pretended to practice faith in which they did not believe’ with the intention of gaining access to a school. It suggests the prevalence of religious cheating may be increasing.

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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