New Church research shows growth is strongest where there are oversubscribed schools

In new research published as part of the Church of England’s Church Growth Research Programme, academics have found that Church growth is strongest in areas in which it has oversubscribed, religiously selective schools. The research confirms that many people attend Church simply to get their children into certain schools. The Fair Admissions Campaign has called for Church schools to stop religiously discriminating in admissions.

The research was conducted for the Church of England in order to identify what successfully causes churches to grow, so that this knowledge can be used to stimulate further growth elsewhere. Academics carried out ‘a purpose-built survey of growing, stable and declining churches across all dioceses’. One of the questions asked was ‘Is this church linked to a Church of England school? [If yes] Is it over-subscribed?’ Analysing the results, the academics write that ‘The results for church growth are interesting. Here the Church school has a key role… The most direct impact on attendance may be felt in areas where a popular C of E school is over-subscribed. Some churchgoing is clearly motivated by a desire to qualify for school admission, but the boost to attendance may last into the longer term if families decide to stay.’ This was found to be statistically significant; the academics concluded that ‘Middle class suburbs with church schools… offer great opportunities [for growth].’

Elsewhere it is written that ‘Being connected with an over-subscribed school is helpful, if not easy to engineer!’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chair of the Accord Coalition, commented, ‘Schools should be for the benefit of the children attending, not recruiting centres for places of worship. The suggested use of state-funded faith schools as a strategy for church growth highlights the need to reform the way they operate, so that they serve their local community, not vested interests.’

Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association, added, ‘This evidence clearly demonstrates that religious selection in school admissions is leading parents to attend Church when they otherwise wouldn’t. It is not the place of the state to support religious groups by allowing fully state funded schools to have admissions criteria that inflate religious attendance figures. Instead, all state funded schools should be open to all pupils, regardless of religion or belief.’


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

Read the previous Fair Admissions Campaign comment from January, ‘Church baptisms move away from birth and towards school admission deadlines’:

Read Accord and the BHA’s comments in December on Sutton Trust research that reached similar conclusions:

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.