Faith schools performance due to back door social selection

December 13, 2013

Inclusive education campaigners have cited new school league tables as further evidence of the social selection that takes place in admissions to state funded faith schools. Research last week from the Fair Admissions Campaign showed that secondary faith schools admitted 22.6% fewer children entitled to free schools meals (a government indicator of deprivation) than would be expected if they reflected their local communities, where as community schools admitted 5.0% more.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘The results from the faith school sector shows what happens when schools do not operate on a level playing field and are skewed towards serving the affluent, rather than deprived. This is especially embarrassing as many people of faith are appalled that schools that should focus on the poor have instead become so elitist. If people want selection, then be upfront and call for Grammar Schools – but do not use religion as a mask for it.’

The Department for Education annual primary school league tables, released yesterday, show that faith schools comprise 60% of the state funded schools in England achieving top exam results, when they comprise 37% of schools at the primary stage. Of the 549 primaries that saw every pupil reaching the expected standard in reading, writing, and maths, 60% were faith schools. Similarly 60 of the 100 schools with the highest overall exams results were faith schools. However, studies have repeatedly shown the boost in the attainment at faith school ’s by the contrast in the social and ability profile of pupils at non-faith schools.

Revealingly, the new Fair Admissions Campaign research found that the more religiously selective a faith school was the more it was likely to socio-economically segregate. Those secondary faith schools that did not select pupils on faith grounds admitted 1.4% fewer children entitled to free school meals (FSM) than lived locally, whereas those that selected 1% to 49% of pupils by faith admitted 5.7% fewer children entitled to fsm; those that select 50% to 99% admitted 9.5% fewer, while those schools that could select all their pupils by faith admitted 30.4% fewer.

Accord maintains a detailed databank of research looking at policies and practices of state funded faith schools, including research looking specifically at the sector’s impact on social and community cohesion, as well as its attainment. The difference in the profile of pupils at faith and non-faith schools has also been considered by a number of studies. These include:

Can Competition Improve School Standards? The Case of Faith Schools in England (2009) by Dr Rebecca Allen and Dr Anna Vignoles of the Institute of Education, which 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, which 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 Stephen Gibbons and Olmo Sliva of the London School of Economics 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’.

School Admissions Report: Fair choice for parents and pupils (2007) by Sarah Tough and Richard Brookes for the Institute for Public Policy Research argued that ‘… schools have no reason to be their own admissions authorities, other than to select students by ability or socio-economic background’.

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