Monthly Archives: April 2016

Cross-party group of MPs call for further limits to faith school’s ability to religiously discriminate in admissions

A cross-party group of MPs have this week tabled an Early Day Motion urging for the current limit restricting faith free schools from selecting no more than half of their pupils by faith to be extended to all other state funded schools, to help boost integration and community cohesion in society. The Early Day Motion seeks to draw the attention of other MPs to the issue.

Fair Admissions Campaign Steering Group member, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘Many faith free schools still exclude children on religious grounds and some admit a very homogeneous intake. However, the call for the 50% cap to be extended to other state funded faith schools is to be welcomed as a stepping stone towards greater reform, and highlights the growing consensus opposed to faith discrimination in society.’

The 50% faith free schools cap is, like the Early Day Motion, the subject of cross-party support. The cap was implemented by the coalition Government in May 2010 and has since remained as Government policy. The policy built on the approach of Labour’s last Secretary of State for Education, Ed Balls, whereby most of the final tranches of faith based academy schools approved under his tenure were required to adhere to a 50% faith selection limit. Attempts to prevent faith schools operating exclusive admission arrangements have however come under brutal attack.

Despite calls for it to soften its position, the Catholic Church of England and Wales continues to boycott the free schools programme in protest at the 50% selection rule. This is despite two private Catholic schools having already reopened as free schools, most private Roman Catholic schools in England and Wales not operating a religiously selective admission policy, and most state funded school systems in the developed world with faith schools not permitting schools to select pupils by faith. This includes many schools that are Roman Catholic. In January a group of sixteen civil society groups signed an open letter calling for the existing 50% cap to remain in place.



The Early Day Motion states:

That this House acknowledges that mutual trust and understanding between people of different backgrounds grows when they are schooled together, which also benefits social cohesion in society at large; and therefore urges that the current policy where new faith free schools in England cannot select more than half their pupils on faith grounds is extended to all types of state-funded faith schools.

The academic evidence base has consistently shown a clear and positive contribution to social integration from ethnic mixing in schools.

A 2012 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that the UK was one of only a very few OECD member countries that permit religious selection at state schools (table 2.3 p15). Research by the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) has reinforced this finding. The OECD identified that the Republic of Ireland, Estonia and Israel as having religiously selective state funded schools. In some Canadian provinces there are publicly funded Catholic schools that can refuse admission to non-Catholics before high school. The FAC are also aware that in Germany, a small number of private religious schools receive state funds and can religiously select. In the Netherlands, private faith schools that receive state funding can loosely require that pupils and parents support the mission/vision of the school. But we are not aware of any other countries. Countries with strong religious traditions, such as Italy, Spain and Poland, do not have religious discrimination in admissions to any state-funded schools.

Religiously selective schools that shun poorer pupils celebrated on DfE award shortlist

The Department for Education (DfE) has named three religiously selective schools on its shortlist of schools that are in the running for this year’s Pupil Premium Award, despite the fact that all three they take far fewer children eligible for free school meals than they should given the local area they are situated in. The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) has criticised the shortlist and highlighted once again the appalling record of religiously selective schools in serving poorer families in their communities.

The pupil premium was introduced in 2011 to provide additional funding to state-funded schools so as to improve the attainment of pupils from poorer backgrounds, and the awards were set up to celebrate schools that make best use of this funding to ‘help disadvantaged young people reach their potential’. However, they only take into account the performance of the pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who are in attendance at the school, and not the number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds that the school actually admits. Therefore a school could be highly socio-economically selective and still perform strongly.

In line with figures produced by the FAC showing that religiously selective schools are, across the country as a whole, overwhelmingly less inclusive of children from poorer backgrounds than schools that don’t religiously select, the three religiously selective secondary schools on the shortlist were found to take an average of 12 percentage points fewer children eligible for free school meals (FSM) than would be representative of their local area. This compares to the broadly representative figures for the schools on the list that don’t religiously select, which on average actually take 2 per cent more children eligible for FSM than are in their area.

School name Religious selection School FSM eligibility Local area FSM eligibility Percentage difference
La Retraite RC Girls’ School All places 13.6% 32.09% -18.49%
Ripley St Thomas CofE Academy All places 4% 13.38% -9.38%
St Wilfrid’s RC College All places 13.9% 22.38% -8.48%
Healing Science Academy None 5.9% 8.22% -2.32%
Great Torrington School None 10.1% 10.28% -0.18%
Caroline Chisholm School None 3.1% 3.86% -0.85%
Maiden Erlegh School None 4.4% 4.30% +0.1%
St Albans Girls’ School None 6.9% 3.96% +2.94%
Selly Park None 38.9% 25.23% +13.7%

Richy Thompson of the British Humanist Association commented, ‘It’s amazing that out of all the schools in the country, the Department for Education has chosen to praise three religiously selective schools for the support they give to disadvantaged pupils, while ignoring the fact that all three of them take far fewer children from disadvantaged backgrounds than they should given the areas they’re in.

‘The Government urgently needs to review the criteria by which the Pupil Premium Awards are judged, and we can only hope that shortlisting these schools will not serve to disincentivise other schools from taking steps to become more inclusive in the future.’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Chair of the Accord Coalition, commented, ‘It is now well-documented that religious selection almost always acts a proxy for socio-economic selection, so it is astonishing that these three schools are on this shortlist. The Government should be encouraging schools that demonstrate inclusivity, rather than legitimising discrimination. This award has become a wasted opportunity to do that.’


For further comment or information, please contact Jay Harman on 0207 324 3078 or

See the FAC’s map showing religious and socio-economic selection in English secondary schools:

Read the FAC’s news item ‘Groundbreaking new research maps the segregating impact of faith school admissions’:

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.

Sutton Trust report urges limits to religious selection in faith school admissions to help the disadvantaged

A new study commissioned by the education charity, The Sutton Trust, has called for religiously selective faith schools to make places available to local children without recourse to faith after finding that such schools are much more likely to be socio-economically exclusive.

The investigation – conducted by Dr Rebecca Allen and Dr Meenakshi Parameshwaran of the research body Education Datalab – compared the profile of pupils attending all primary schools in England with that of primary school aged children that lived locally to all the schools. It found a strong correlation between popular and highly rated schools having intakes that were socio-economically exclusive and unrepresentative of their local area. It found that these schools tended to operate more complex pupil admission criteria, and were very often religiously selective faith schools.

The academics found a significant difference in the pupil profile of faith schools that operated a religiously selective over-subscription policy with those that did not, echoing other findings showing that religious selection invariably leads to social exclusion. The report noted:

‘It is generally true that non-religious schools are not particularly socially selective and that Roman Catholic and other religious primary schools are, regardless of governance status. This reflects the fact that these religious schools consistently apply religious admission criteria. The pattern of social selection in Church of England primary schools is quite different, reflecting the variety of stances towards religious selection that dioceses have taken. They are far less likely to be socially selective than other schools with a religious denomination because many (particularly voluntary controlled) act as defacto community schools and do not apply any religious criteria.’

In addition to recommending that faith schools reserve places for local children, the report urged that the ability of groups and individuals to raise objections about school admission arrangements with the Office of the School Adjudicator (OSA) should not be constrained. In January the Government announced it would be changing rules to prevent groups like the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) from highlighting with the OSA abuses and errors in faith school admission arrangements.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education and FAC Steering Group member, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘The evidence base provides an overwhelming case that religious selection is a major source of socio-economic exclusion. It is highly embarrassing that many faith schools, which should be skewed towards serving the disadvantaged, are in fact conferring privilege to children of the affluent.’

‘Faith schools that do not select by faith show well how faith schools do not need to select in this way to uphold a religious ethos and how they can better avoid social exclusion. As a matter of priority, the current rule that limits religious selection at faith free schools to 50% of places should be expanded to all state funded faith schools, to help ensure the schools find a better balance between those they serve.’

The report’s findings echo those of a detailed study conducted by the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) in 2013 which looked at all secondary schools in England. The FAC found that whereas non-faith secondary schools admitted on average 5% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected if the schools admitted local children, non-religiously selective faith schools typically admitted 1% fewer such children. Faith schools that had a religiously selective admission policy however typically admitted 30% fewer than would be expected if they admitted local children. Entitlement to free school meals is a key indicator of deprivation used by government.



Abuse of faith school admissions leads to socio-economic bias
A November 2012 YouGov survey commissioned by The Sutton Trust looked at strategies that parents used to try and get their child into a better school, and found that 6% of parents with children at a state funded school admitted to attending church services, when they did not previously, so that their child could go to a church school. For parents from socio-economic group A this figure rose to 10%. When it is considered that faith schools only educate a quarter of pupils at state funded schools in England and Wales, these findings suggest that a great many faith school places are won on the basis of religious cheating.

Worryingly, evidence has emerged that suggests baptism could also be being misused. The Pastoral Research Centre released data in Jan 2014 showing that while the number of baptisms of children under the age of one in England and Wales was in long term decline, the number of baptisms of those aged over one had risen dramatically over the previous decade. The change is consistent with parents having children baptised as their child nears school age, as part of a strategy to increase their chance of being admitted to a popular Catholic school.

Most Church Schools were set up to educate the disadvantaged
Serving the better-heeled in their communities is a distortion to the original mission of most Church schools. The National Society, which created most Anglican schools, was established to provide schools for children from poor families. Similarly the precursor to the Catholic Education Service of England and Wales was named the ‘Catholic Poor School Committee’.