Church baptisms move away from birth and towards school admission deadlines

New research published by the Pastoral Research Centre has shown that while the number of baptisms of children under the age of one is in long term decline, the number of baptisms of those aged over one has risen dramatically over the past decade. The trend, which is also seen in statistics for Church of England baptisms, might indicate that more and more parents are now only having their children baptised in order to gain entry to Catholic schools – virtually all of which have baptism as a requirement in their oversubscription policies. The Fair Admissions Campaign has called for the scrapping of such admissions requirements.

In total, the number of Catholic baptisms of children under one fell by 5% from 44,130 in 2001 to 41,937 in 2012, with half the fall happening in the last year. Conversely, the number of late baptisms (almost all by age 13) rose 29% from 19,528 in 2001 to 25,225 in 2012 – although there was a 5% fall in the last year.

The number of Church of England baptisms of children under one fell 26% since 2000 to 83,850 in 2011. The number of baptisms of children aged 1-12 (the vast majority being at ages 2-3) rose by 18% since 2000 to 45,260.

In its coverage of the statistics, The Telegraph quotes a father who got his three children baptised at a Polish Catholic church two weeks before the school application deadline, in order that they would meet the entry requirements for a local, high performing Catholic school: ‘I didn’t think it would be possible to go to our local parish to get the children baptised. The priest is not that friendly, and he might have smelt a rat if we asked to have our children baptised so last minute. The priest at the Polish church just asked me if I go to church. I said we go to a different church and we want to start going to this one.’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chair of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education, commented, ‘Many Catholic schools will only take children whom they have baptised, so for parents desperate for a school place, baptism is a significant entry ticket to a local school. As Catholic schools are publicly funded, they should be open to the community at large rather than using faith as a way of discriminating between children and enabling some families to jump the queue.’

Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association, commented, ‘Research published last month by the Sutton Trust found that 6% of parents attend worship specifically to get their children into Church schools. This latest research could be construed as suggesting that parents are similarly being motivated to get their children baptised not for religious reasons but for school admissions reasons. It is past time that such admissions policies are replaced with others that ensure that all state schools are made open to all children, regardless of their parents’ religion or belief.’


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

Read the latest research:

Read the equivalent figures for the Church of England:

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.