Faith schools criticised for complexity of school admissions policies

Update: Also out today is a survey from Netmums of their members which found that ‘To get their children into popular faith schools, 12.5 per cent had attended a church or place of worship near the school, while 1.4 per cent admitted to attending a church or place of worship of a different faith to their own.’ Just 4-5 per cent of the parent age population attends Church weekly, so if this survey is accurate then it suggests that there must be big spikes in attendance when parents have children aged 2-4 and again at about 9-11, with much lower attendance otherwise.

Original story: A new report published today by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) has criticised the complex admissions requirements used by many religiously selective schools and called for further clarification from the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) on what is and is not permitted. The Fair Admissions Campaign, which has published research demonstrating the extent to which religious selection causes socio-economic segregation, has welcomed the report and its findings.

“It might be best if you looked elsewhere”: An investigation into the schools admission process took the current School Admissions Code (which permits religious selection) as a given but nonetheless examines areas in which faith-based selection leads to breaches of the School Admissions Code.

The report looks through recent decisions made against schools by the OSA and found two main areas where schools are being caught breaking the Code. The first is ‘The use of complex “points” systems by some admissions authorities for admissions. These are usually used by faith schools. These reward parents for carrying out work in a church or other place of worship. While the use of criteria relating to religious observance is lawful for gaining admission to a school of the faith concerned, criteria related to providing practical support to a place of worship are not. However, it is not always clear which category a particular criterion or activity used by a school falls into. Guidance on this should be provided by faith authorities (such as the local diocese.) However, this guidance is at times silent on the criteria used by local schools, and the potential for confusion, or for parents being put off from applying, therefore continues.’ The second is in giving priority to children attending nurseries.

As a consequence, the first recommendation made by the report is that ‘The Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) issue further clarification on the difference between criteria based on “religious observance”, which are lawful, and those based on “non-religious service”, which are not. OSA should seek consensus from faith bodies on the differences between these criteria, drawing on existing good practice in faith schools in England. Using the latter criteria could be viewed as amounting to charging a fee to apply to the school, albeit “in kind” rather than in cash. OSA should seek consensus from faith bodies on the differences between these sets of criteria, drawing on existing good practice already in existence in many faith schools in England, and should ensure its guidance aids those schools’ practices to remain within the statutory admissions code.

The report also calls for:

  • ‘Further large-scale, qualitative research is required to enable all concerned to understand the specific nature and scale of inequality in admissions outcomes, and to report on the reasons for this. This should be a priority for the Department for Education’s future programme of commissioned research.’
  • Schools to particularly consider whether their admissions policies and behaviour might break the Public Sector Equality Duty.
  • ‘As part of their work in co-ordinating admissions, local authorities should be given powers to collect anonymised demographic information on the characteristics of children applying for a place at the state funded schools across their areas, alongside data on places offered and accepted.’ The Fair Admissions Campaign has also been calling for data of this nature to be collected and published by central Government or local authorities.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘Many expect the faith school sector to be setting examples for others to follow, so it is all the more disturbing that religiously selective schools should be associated with discriminatory, socially exclusive and improper practices. We urge the Government to implement the report’s recommendations and produce guidance that sets out more clearly the types of faith based admissions criteria that are not permissible under the School Admissions Code. The Department for Education also needs to carry out research into the wider scale of inequality in admissions outcomes and the reasons for them.’

Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association, commented, ‘It is simply unacceptable that many schools cream off the “more attractive” pupils (as the report puts it) to the detriment of those from more deprived backgrounds, who do not speak English as a first language, or who have special educational needs. While taking as read the current allowance of faith-based admissions, this report nonetheless finds that faith-based admissions in particular often lead to complex points-based admissions systems which in turn causes socio-economic and ethnic segregation. The report correctly concludes that while faith-based selection continues, more needs to be done to clarify exactly what is and is not permissible. We will be urging the Government to take action and ensure this report’s recommendations become reality.’


For further information or comment please contact Paul Pettinger on 020 7324 3071 or email

Read the OCC’s press release:

Read the report:

The Fair Admissions Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and LecturersBritish Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education AssociationLiberal Youth, the Local Schools NetworkRichmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.