New research survey condemns Government proposals for an end to limits on faith school selection

A major new survey of recent research relating to the use of religious selection in faith school admissions has failed to identify any evidence supporting the Government’s proposed move to end limits on religious selection by free schools.

The report, published by the Fair Admissions Campaign, sets out the full range of evidence, information, and research on religious selection in schools admissions. Drawing on data and analysis from the last 15 years, the study explores the impact that religious discrimination in school admissions has had and continues to have on key issues such as social integration, community cohesion, pupil attainment, parental choice, and equality.

It comes in the midst of proposals announced by the Government last autumn which would see an end to the 50% cap on religious selection, which currently requires all new and existing religious free schools to leave at least half of their places equally open to local children, irrespective of religion or belief. Research published since the announcement has been overwhelming in its condemnation:

  • An August 2017 study commissioned by the Department for Education revealing that ‘attitudes were more positive and, as would be expected, mixing was more frequent in mixed than segregated schools…mixed schools do result in more social mixing between ethnic groups over time, and mixing is reliably associated with more positive views of the outgroup’
  • A March 2017 report by the Sutton Trust concluding that lifting the 50% cap is ‘likely to make [faith schools] even more unrepresentative of their local areas, reducing the number of good places available to pupils across the socio-economic spectrum. The admissions process for faith schools should instead be opened up so that their admissions are fairer and begin to reflect their local population.
  • A November 2016 report from the Education Policy Institute which finds that the proposal is ‘unlikely to yield school places that are of a significantly higher quality than that offered by non-faith schools…[and] there is a risk that these small gains would come at the price of increased social segregation.’
  • A September 2016 analysis of official School Census data revealed that Christian schools that select 100% of their places on the basis of religion are far less diverse than those which select either none or only half of their pupils on the basis of religion. The analysis concludes that if the 50% cap was rolled out to all state schools rather than repealed, ‘tens or even hundreds of thousands of non-white pupils would gain access to their local schools where they haven’t had access before’.

Particularly interesting is the attention drawn to the various polls that have been conducted over the last few years, demonstrating that religious selection is hugely unpopular among the population as a whole. Indeed, a poll published by the Accord Coalition in July 2017 found that four out of five people want to keep the 50% cap, including a sizeable majority of every religious group, and other polling suggests around three-quarters want to scrap faith-based admissions entirely. A number of high-profile figures have also condemned the Government’s proposals, including Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman, and Conservative ‘Father of the House’ Ken Clarke MP.

Commenting on the report’s release, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain commented, ‘This is an incredibly important and timely survey, and one that highlights the unacceptable face of schools admissions, with a number of faith schools using discriminatory criteria that are religiously questionable and socially divisive. The Government should urgently reconsider its proposals to increase such division in the education system in light of these findings.’  

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson added, ‘Discussions about faith schools and religious selection are often unhelpfully coloured by personal anecdote and fixed allegiance, so what this report aims to do is provide a “one-stop-shop” of reliable information in this area. We hope this will encourage a more informed debate, and more informed policy-making too.’

Notes

For further information, please contact the Fair Admissions Campaign on 020 7324 3078 or email info@fairadmissions.org.uk.

The report is available at: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/2017-08-29-FINAL-Religious-Selection-Research-Survey.pdf

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 Humanists UK, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British 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 Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.