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’.