Fair Admissions Campaign Shows True Colours of Faith Schools

By December 3, 2013No Comments

Groundbreaking new research maps the segregating impact of faith school admissions


The Fair Admissions Campaign has today published groundbreaking research into the extent of religious selection in state schools and its effect on social and ethnic inclusiveness. Launched in map form, for the first time it scores how religiously selective, socio-economically inclusive and ethnically inclusive every mainstream state secondary school in England is. Users are able to see profiles for individual schools, compare and rank different schools in their area and nationally, and see how segregated different denominations, dioceses and local authorities are. It is hoped that the tool will prove useful to parents, schools, and individuals concerned about segregation in school admissions. It can be viewed at http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map


The research combines data from five main sources and hundreds of admissions directories. The map details the proportion of pupils each school is allowed to religiously select in its oversubscription criteria; how many pupils at the school are eligible for free school meals by comparison with its local area; and how many speak English as an additional language.


Key findings include:


  • Comprehensive secondaries with no religious character admit 11% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected given their areas. Comprehensive Church of England secondaries admit 10% fewer; Roman Catholic secondaries 24% fewer; Jewish secondaries 61% fewer; and Muslim secondaries 25% fewer.
  • There is a clear correlation between religious selection and socio-economic segregation: Church of England comprehensives that don’t select on faith admit 4% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected, while those whose admissions criteria allow full selection admit 31% fewer.
  • 16% of schools select by religion but they are vastly overrepresented in the 100 worst offenders on free school meal eligibility and English as an additional language. They make up 46 of the worst 100 schools (and 67 out of 100 if we exclude grammar schools) on FSM eligibility and 50 of the worst 100 (55 if we exclude grammar schools) on EAL.
  • The most segregated local authority as a result of religious selection is Hammersmith and Fulham. While 15% of pupils nationally are eligible for free school meals, the segregation between the religiously selective schools and other schools is almost double that (27 percentage points).
  • The map represents the first time any data has ever been published on the degree of religious selection by faith schools. We estimate that 16% of children at state schools (or 1.2 million) are subject to religious selection criteria. Compared with 5% of state secondary places in grammar schools and 7% of all places in independent schools, this means that state-funded faith schools are the biggest source of selection in the education system.



Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE said, ‘This new research confirms what some had already suspected – that religiously selective schools not only further segregate children on religious and ethnic grounds, but also are skewed towards serving the affluent at the expense of the deprived. Crucially, the research also shows that the more a school is permitted to select children by faith, the greater the extent to which it is likely to socio-economically segregate. The data poses some very awkward questions for the state funded faith school sector, and especially for Church schools, many of which were set up with a focus of providing education for the poor.’


Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, commented, ‘Today’s findings make clear like never before the devastating effects that faith-based admissions have in segregating communities along socio-economic and ethnic lines. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently commented that Church of England schools are moving away from religious selection. We are yet to see if this is true, but at the same time believe it cannot come true soon enough. In any case, the scale of the problem demands not voluntary effort by religious groups but legislation – government should act now to make these divisive effects impossible by removing the possibility of religious selection in state-funded schools.’



Supporting Statement by Professor Ted Cantle CBE, The iCoCo Foundation


Almost twelve years ago to this day I launched the Community Cohesion Review Team’s report (known as  the Cantle Report)  into the 2001 race riots. This considered the causes of the race riots in the summer of that year and I coined the phrase ‘parallel lives’ to describe the way in which different communities had become segregated and lived in fear and ignorance of each other. Communities were divided in housing, schooling, workplaces and in cultural terms and had little contact with each other. The Team were particularly anxious to bring communities together and made 73 recommendations. These included urging all schools to ‘consider ways in which they might ensure that their intake is representative of the range of cultures and ethnicity in their local communities’.

Despite great work in some schools over the years, pupil segregation has been getting worse. A national study in 2004 confirmed that sufficient progress had not been made and this has been confirmed by my own local studies. But now, twelve years on, the Fair Admissions campaign’s research shows an even more unfortunate picture – segregation by faith and social class has been added to that of ethnicity. And the worst culprits appear to be the very institutions that claim to bring us together – faith schools. Furthermore, the situation is one of continual decline as more and more faith schools, with free and independent admissions policies, are established to balkanise children’s education. Rather than learning about each other, schools are creating more and more boundaries which tell pupils that they have such inherent differences that it is not possible to share the same classroom!

Under Archbishop Justin Welby, the Church of England has begun to recognise the problem, though his interview with Ruth Gledhill of the Times last month in which he claimed that Anglican schools were moving away from selection on the basis of faith, was immediately contradicted by his own press office. And the Archbishop will have to fight the protective grip of so many individual schools and admissions authorities that are proud of their school ethos and performance, even if it is built on division and exclusion. Justin Welby is, of course, almost alone amongst faith leaders in his concern and the schools administered by most other faiths are presently far less open to pupils of other faiths and non-faith.

The UK is just about the only country to permit, let alone promote, school admissions based on parental faith. And the admissions system is designed  to foster competition between communities at a wider level, by demanding that parents ‘re-discover’ their faith for a few years, attend a church they have long since left, even by gaining extra points for various church duties including by volunteering to arrange the church flowers. Faith leaders not only connive with this hypocrisy, they attempt to revel in the pretence of an unique identity, in which minor differences are heightened – the complete antipathy of a shared humanity which is the essence and fundamental belief supposedly shared by all faiths.

The Fair Admissions Campaign has a simple aim – that all state-funded schools in England and Wales should be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. David Cameron promised us an end to ‘state multiculturalism’, but here it is, solidly embedded in our school system. Ending such practices has to be the only way forward in a multi-faith society in which diversity is continuing to grow. And faith organisations, so quick to advocate the principle of ‘non-discrimination’ in other goods and services,  must surely now recognise that only by ending institutional discrimination in schools we will begin to bring about a reduction in the communal enmity and violence which is bred by segregation.


(The above Supporting Statement also appeared in the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ on 3rd December 2013)

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