Stop religious discrimination in pupil selection locally

October 27, 2011

Many people are appalled that in our society state funded faith schools are able to discriminate against children and their families on religious grounds in their admissions policy. To do this faith schools have been given various exemptions from human rights and equality law. However, it is not often known that local communities are also able to prevent such discrimination in many of their faith schools; namely in their voluntary controlled faith schools.

Voluntary controlled faith schools differ from all the types of state funded faith school (voluntary aided, foundation and academy/ free school). These other types of faith school determine their own pupil admissions policy and are able to choose whether to discriminate against applicants on religious grounds when they are oversubscribed.

However, voluntary controlled faith schools are different. They have their admissions policy determined by their local authority responsible for education and therefore a unique opportunity exists for local residents who object to religious discrimination in pupil addmissions to petition and lobby their council to stop these schools from operating in this way.

Fortunately, most councils that have voluntary controlled faith schools in their area do not let them select pupils on religious grounds, but sadly a significant minority still do.

Research by the Accord Coalition in 2011 showed that 137 of the 174 local authorities responsible for education in England and Wales had one or more voluntary controlled faith school in their jurisdiction, and furthermore, that 43 of these authorities (listed in the table below) permitted religious discrimination in these school’s oversubscription admission arrangements of some kind.


If your local authority is one of these ‘offending’ councils then you should be able to find out more about how the pupil admissions and over subscription criteria of local community and voluntary controlled schools operate on the council’s website. If not then the council’s education department will supply you with the policy upon request.

Although more and more faith schools in England are becoming Academy schools (which get to determine their own admissions) voluntary controlled faith schools still form a significant minority of all faith schools in England and Wales. They comprise of a comparatively much larger proportion of primary than secondary schools, and as shown in the table below, still comprise of over a third of all state funded faith schools and about 12.5% of all state schools in England. Therefore religious selection in voluntary controlled schools remains a very big issue.

Faith school % of state school sector in England
Voluntary Aided faith schools Voluntary Controlled  faith schools Foundation  faith schools Faith school academies Total no of state schools % of schools that  are faith schools
Total 4,172 2,523 55 84 20,194
% 20.7 12.5 0.27 0.42 33.9
Types of faith school as % of their own sector England
  Voluntary Aided faith schools Voluntary Controlled  faith schools Foundation  faith schools Faith school academies  
% 61 36.9 0.8 1.23


If your local council is one of the significant number of authorities that still allow their voluntary controlled faith schools to operate in this way then we urge you to take action and campaign to make your council implement inclusive admissions that take no account of children and families beliefs.

To help you do this the Accord Coalition has produced a short guide for activists on running and organising a local campaign to get your local council to stop religious selection in their voluntary controlled faith schools. You can access Accord’s ”Local schools for open communities: inclusive admissions in voluntary controlled faith schools” campaign guide here.

24 Responses to Stop religious discrimination in pupil selection locally

  1. W.May on October 31, 2011 at 10:27 am

    I’m not sure why Lancashire is NOT INCLUDED in the above list.Could you clear that up for me please?

  2. Tim Mullen on November 1, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    I’m interested in where Academy’s fit into this; Stoke-on-Trent has just opened a new, Church of England sponsored Academy, which, as I understood it, is allowed to set its own admissions criteria, which in this case include parents having to prove their commitment to the Church.

    • Paul Pettinger on November 1, 2011 at 3:24 pm

      Hi Tim, as the school is an Academy it gets to determine its own admissions policy, rather than the local authority. Communities can urge that local schools like these have inclusive admissions, but Academies do not fall under the remit of this particular initiative.

  3. S.Cook on November 1, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    My local authority is listed and I am keen to get involved. I can’t seem to download the campaign guide though. Can you send to my email please?

  4. John Parfitt on November 1, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    Back to school – the plural of authority is authorities; authority’s is the possessive. I knew this 70 years ago when I was ten years old. Something wrong with modern education? John Parfitt, Bristol

  5. Paul Pettinger on November 2, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Thank you John, error now changed.

  6. Debbi Stanistreet on November 2, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Why is Liverpool not listed here? The C of E and the Catholic Church between them, control a very high proportion of senior school admissions in the city….

    • Paul Pettinger on November 3, 2011 at 1:42 pm

      Hi Debbie, Liverpool Council is not listed here simply because it does not allow the voluntary controlled faith schools under its jurisdiction to select pupils on religious grounds. See page 14 of their primary schools arrangements at, as well as page 20 of their secondary school admissions at

      • Lake Ami on June 26, 2020 at 6:02 pm

        Hi I am a single mother with two children. I am working as a teacher. Recently, my son was not offered place in the nearest Christian school. I went through the appeal process where I explained my family circumstances and distance from school .I live 0.2 miles from the school which is two minutes walk. If my son gets the place, it will ease the stress I have to go through before going to work. We are in Kingston upon Thames. I would like to challenge the decision, I am not sure the best way forward. I would appreciate if you could help me Thank you in advance

  7. K Starkey on January 3, 2012 at 1:58 am

    Disagree entriely. The issue is that their should be a choice between a non-faith school and a faith school.
    The real issue here is that many faith schools (not all) have good results and parents resent the dies that their kids cannot go there rather than trying to address the issues in the other schools.
    The deccrimination and advantages of private schools would be a better moral target.

  8. Brian Pearce on January 20, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    I have been investigating the situation in Cardiff(listed as one of the guilty authorities)and I can only find one faith school that is VC. This primary school does have different admissions criteria but preference for children resident in the area. 2.Children who have siblings in the school. 3 Children who are baptised and whose parents are active and habitual worshipers. (This is in contrast to other VA schools who make religion their first priority.) But does the fact that religion comes third weeken our case?

  9. Paul Sherwood on March 31, 2012 at 12:45 am

    I have seethed for years over the admissions policy of a local state funded faith school with excellent results. As an atheist I couldn’t bear to attend church for 3 years as required to jump through the admission hoops so have instead paid for private education as the local non faith selective state schools are poor. So faith discrimination has encouraged me to use the ‘immoral’ private option. If I win the lottery the money will be spent on legal challenges using human rights law aiming to abolish all faith-based school selection. How can we continue to allow evil religious indoctrination in modern society?

  10. Katy Garrigan on April 19, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    I am from the other side of the spectrum, I am within West Sussex County Council and I am suprised to see them on your list as we were told by them and their admissions policy does not appear to give any religious preference? However we do see that they are proposing for 2013 to have a religious preference within their over subscription criteria for several C of E Junior schools in the county. Although I quite agree with the issue, we feel we are being targeted as we do prefer a religious education for our son being Christians ourselves we do exist! We have been unable to obtain a place at first and second choices of faith schools due to class sizes, with many parents that have got places upset that they do not want a faith school. I believe we need to provide more good Community Schools so that everyone can have a good education.Please do not discriminate against those who genuinely do require a religious education

    • Frank on June 26, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      Hi Katy. I fully agree with you. We have applied for our C of E school, and have been denied on the grounds of there being a school slightly closer, and the class already being full. Our daughter is just finishing her last year in the school, so this is automatically disregarded. To make matters worse, my wife is currently a parent governor of the school (and has been for the last 3 years), treasurer of the school PTA, treasurer of our church etc etc. We have been told that despite being one of the criteria for entry that no one has been put into the school on grounds of faith/religion, and that we will have to make do with a non-christian school as they have assemblies. Last christmas our first choice school stopped a festive project as they may offend…… I fully agree that there should be no-discrimination on school admissions, but surley there has to be a balance??

  11. adam richardson on June 11, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Out of interest, and concern, could you summarise to me the information you may hold on County Durham? In particular, St. Leanards R.C. Comp. School in City of Durham. When arguing the issue of faith schools locally, I often reference this school for factual points that I do know about, but it would be helpful to know if you had looked at its policies, or the council’s policies on discriminatory admittance, or indeed employment. If you had historical information had this recently changed to comply with basic decency of equality, that would too be very interesting.

    Well done to the coalition with all the great, child-centric work.
    A very worthy and pressing cause.x

    • Paul Pettinger on July 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm

      Hi Adam, St. Leanard’s School is Voluntary Aided, so controls it own admission arrangements. It therefore has not fallen under the scope of Accord’s research for this initiative.

  12. B Evans on May 29, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    I complained to Bracknell Forest Council in their latest consultation on admission policy which made no difference. When I asked for their reasoning and decision making on the admissions policy I got no where, even after multiple attempts just to get info on how they reached the decisions.

  13. […] London that are opting not to select pupils on religious grounds when oversubscribed. They join the large number of Voluntary Controlled faith schools (which have their admissions policy set by their local authority for education) that already do not […]

  14. leanne on January 27, 2015 at 2:37 pm


    could you please tell me which area st johns catholic primary school in kent comes under please.

    they have 8 admissions criteria categories with any other religion category 7 and no religion category 8.

    I can not get son a place even though he has 2 siblings there and as a childminder I am responsible for a further 4 children at the school.

    my son is currently without a school at all

  15. leanne on January 27, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    sorry, that’s Gravesend, kent

    • Paul Pettinger on March 2, 2015 at 9:17 pm

      Please check your inbox.

      Best wishes,

      Paul Pettinger
      Coordinator of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education

  16. Gregoire Jones on January 27, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    My son and daughter are unable to go to the nearest good Schol in Manchester because they’re permitted to select Christians and other faiths before atheist.
    My argument is that if faith is such a good way of allocating public resources why don’t we have priority for some faiths at hospitals or when the fire brigade is called. The simple fact is that is is permitted because its children being discriminated against, and not adults

    • Paul Pettinger on March 2, 2015 at 9:27 pm

      Religious segregation, discrimination and preference in the provision of other public services – health care, the military, welfare payments – seems absurd, yet it is tolerated in very institutions that should be equipping people for positively critical and respectful engagement with living in a mixed-belief society. Madness. Please join the supporters list at

      Best wishes,

      Paul Pettinger
      Coordinator of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education

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