Revealed: how much faith-based admissions socio-economically segregate school intakes

The Fair Admissions Campaign is today publishing new top-level data showing the degree to which faith-based admissions criteria cause schools to be socio-economically unrepresentative of their local areas. The Campaign has compared the number of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) at every state funded school to their neighbourhoods, and seen how much these two figures diverge. The findings show that religious selection has a huge impact in causing schools to have fewer pupils requiring free school meals, with secondaries that select being much more segregated than those that don’t.

The very worst schools are massively unrepresentative of their local areas, with religiously selective secondary schools comprising 58 of the top 100 most offending schools, and 70 of the top 100 comprehensives. By comparison, only 15% of all secondaries religiously select. To give some examples, the London Oratory School in Hammersmith & Fulham takes 6.6% of pupils requiring Free School Meals, compared to 38.7% in its local area. Sacred Heart High School, also in Hammersmith & Fulham, takes 6.3% of pupils requiring FSM, compared to 45.8% in its area. Even more extreme is The Blue Coat CofE School in Oldham, taking 6.8% of pupils requiring FSM compared to 47.4% locally.

Nationally about 15% of secondary pupils and 18% of primary pupils are considered eligible for free school meals. However, an average Roman Catholic secondary school would have 4.7% fewer pupils than its local area – for example, if 15% of pupils in its area required FSM, it would likely have 11.3% of pupils requiring FSM. A Catholic primary would typically have 7.1% fewer pupils than its area.

It is also possible to observe the direct impact of religious selection on free school meals. Virtually all Catholic schools have fully religiously selective admissions criteria, but there is huge diversity within the Church of England sector, and the Fair Admissions Campaign has now researched the oversubscription criteria of all religious secondary schools and established the degree to which they allow selection. Looking at Church of England secondary schools that do not select at all, they typically have 0.2% more FSM pupils than their area. But looking at CofE secondaries that select 100% of their pupils, they typically have 3.9% fewer.

The local areas examined are known as Middle Super Output Areas (MSOAs), which comprise about 2,000-6,000 households – about the typical catchment area of a secondary school. Previous, similar research has instead focused on first half of post codes, but MSOAs are better because they are smaller and because post code data involves comparing the number of children at the different schools in a given area, as opposed to the number of children living in the area. From here, the difference between each school and its MSOA is calculated.


Members of the Fair Admissions Campaign’s steering group have responded to the latest findings. Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association, commented ‘This new evidence makes it abundantly clear that religiously selective admissions criteria are directly responsible for a high degree of socio-economic selection by state funded schools. The most segregated schools invariably have overly complex selection criteria that require some serious thought, time and commitment to understand and comply with, and so by their very nature exclude people like the single parent working several jobs who simply doesn’t have the time to comply.

‘It is fundamentally wrong that a school we all pay for can turn away a child because their parents are of a different religion or of no religion, and it is even more outrageous that so many are doing so in a manner that excludes those from the poorest of families at the same time.’

Professor Ted Cantle CBE, author of the Cantle Report into the 2001 race riots and founder of the Institute of Community Cohesion, commented, ‘It is profoundly disappointing that so many faith schools seem to have lost sight of supporting the most needy in their local areas. In addition we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that socio-economic segregation in schools will reinforce ethnic segregation as minorities tend to be more disadvantaged, all of which means an even more divided society. There needs to be more monitoring of selection and enforcement of socially responsible policies.’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, Chair of the Accord Coalition, commented, ‘The findings show that many faith schools seem to have lost their way religiously, and instead of caring especially for the more under-privileged parts of society are concentrating on children from higher socio-economic backgrounds in order to boost their league table standing. It is time to re-examine whether schools that use faith to segregate children have any place in today’s educational system.’


For further comment please contact BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on 07738 435 059, Accord Coalition coordinator Jonathan Romain on 07770 722 893 or email

The table below shows how different types of religious school compare to their local areas, both in an absolute sense (e.g. if a local area is 15% FSM, then a typical Catholic secondary would be 11.3%) and a proportional sense (e.g. a typical Catholic secondary would have 85% as many pupils requiring FSM as its area. Note that 85% of 15% is not 11.3%, but this just reflects the fact that Catholic schools are more likely than other schools to be in deprived areas). The underlying data derives from Government-published analyses of the national pupil database.

Click here to show the table

Overall percentage eligible for FSM in dataset 18.094   15.167
Absolute (School- MSOA) Proportional (School/ MSOA) Absolute (School-MSOA) Proportional (School/ MSOA)
No religious character 1.265 105.478 0.890 104.001
Rural no religious character 0.934 104.676
Urban no religious character 1.315 105.598
Church of England -0.194 99.708 -1.870 86.993
0% selective C of E 0.199 98.584
100% selective C of E -3.938 73.790
Rural C of E 0.302 102.532
Urban C of E -0.580 97.509
Voluntary Aided/Foundation C of E -1.210 100.611
Roman Catholic -7.111 68.374 -4.732 85.191
‘Generic’ Christian -4.637 68.488 -2.497 76.713
Methodist 1.457 121.062 N/A N/A
Jewish -13.379 25.200 -14.389 25.876
Muslim 1.815 91.026 -9.350 54.373
The Campaign has mapped religious secondary schools by their admissions policies and will soon be publishing this data, along with data for every school on free school meals, English as an additional language and ethnicity, in an interactive map.

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.