94% of parents do not consider religious affiliation an important factor when choosing a school

June 3, 2021

A YouGov survey commissioned by Ofsted has found only 6% of parents of school age children in England consider a school’s religious ethos to be an important factor when determining school choice. The poll findings have been revealed as part of a survey conducted in March that investigated parental perceptions of Ofsted.

Parents were asked to choose up to three listed factors they considered “important” when choosing a school. Most popular was “Proximity of the childcare provider, school or college to your home”, which was chosen by 54% of parents. In 10th place with 6% came “The particular faith-based affiliation of the childcare provider or school”.

The results echo findings from a 2013 University of Lancaster commissioned YouGov poll which also found religious motivations to be an uncommon driver of school choice. This poll asked British adults to record which from a list of factors would likely influence their choice of school. “Grounding of pupils in a faith tradition” was chosen by 5% and “Transmission of belief about God” by 3%. Despite this, most of the over one third of state funded schools in England and Wales that are faith based religiously select pupils when oversubscribed.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Revd Stephen Terry, said ‘A frequent argument put forward in defence of religiously discriminatory admission policies at state funded faith schools is that the discrimination helps some parents access an education for their child which conforms with their own religious convictions. As Ofsted’s poll highlights however, few parents are actually motivated by this. Religiously selective admissions criteria are instead being widely exploited for other reasons.’

‘Faith schools should take faith seriously, not incentivise widespread religious cheating. It both devalues the ethos of religiously selective schools and is reputationally damaging for their sponsors. These latest awkward poll findings should prompt a complete reconsideration of whether it is appropriate to use religiously discriminatory admission policies in schools.’

Abuse of religiously selective admissions criteria has been revealed in previous surveys. A 2018 report undertaken by the education charity The Sutton Trust found parents attending religious services to be the most common “ethically dubious” strategy employed by families in England to secure admission to a preferred school. 31% of parents surveyed knew someone “personally” who had attended religious services so their child could attend a popular faith school, with 7% of parents admitting to having done this themselves. The Fair Admissions Campaign has published a list of ten reasons why it thinks religious selection in pupil admissions should be objected to here.

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