‘Faith’ schools three times more socially selective than others, new research finds (again)

1 March, 2017

English ‘faith’ schools are the most socially selective category of comprehensive school, and more than three times more socially selective than schools with no religious character, a new report from the Sutton Trust has found. The Sutton Trust has also come out against the UK Government’s proposals to expand religious selection in new state-run religious schools.

Despite the fact that ‘faith’ schools have been traditionally associated with stronger academic performance and are ‘substantially overrepresented’ in the list of top 500 schools, the report notes that they are ‘among the most socially selective category of top school’. ‘Faith’ schools are more than three times as socially selective compared to their catchment area than a non-faith school’, the research reveals.

The findings call into question once again the Government’s proposals to drastically increase the amount of religious selection in the education system by allowing new and existing religious free schools to select 100% of their places on the basis of faith. Currently, and since 2007, all new ‘faith’ schools have been subject to a 50% cap on religious selection, which requires that they keep at least half of their places open to local children irrespective of religion or belief. The Government now plans to drop the cap, ostensibly in part to boost social mobility.

However, the Sutton Trust recommends that ‘faith schools need to look at their recruitment of disadvantaged pupils’, stating that:

‘The Government has mooted lifting the restrictions on the proportion of pupils new faith schools can select on the basis of religious faith (currently 50%). As our report demonstrates, faith schools are already among the most socially selective of schools, and lifting the restriction is likely to make them even more unrepresentative of their local areas, reducing the number of good school places available to pupils across the socio-economic spectrum. The admissions process for faith schools should instead be opened up so that their admissions are fairer and begin to reflect their local population…’

The report is the latest in a long line of similar research pointing to the negative impact of faith-based admissions on children from poorer backgrounds. In November the Education Policy Institute published a report finding that there is no academic difference between state religious schools in England and others once pupils’ backgrounds are taken into account, noting that ‘faith’ schools take significantly fewer pupils eligible for FSM than live in their local areas.

And a similar piece of research conducted by the Fair Admissions Campaign in 2014 found that while 47 of the top 100 comprehensive schools in England were religious schools, compared to only a fifth of the total number of secondary schools, those 47 schools took an average of 44% fewer children from poorer backgrounds than would have been representative of their local areas. Indeed, the 10 top performing ‘faith’ schools took an average of 56% fewer FSM eligible children, and the top 5 an average of 68% fewer. The findings supported previous research suggesting that the relatively high performance of some ‘faith’ schools was attributable almost entirely to social selection.

BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘Yet again, the evidence has made clear that “faith” schools are not better than other schools, as is so often claimed. Rather, where these schools religiously select their pupils, they are simply less charitable and less willing to risk their undeservedly glowing reputations by serving the children in their communities from poorer backgrounds. Religious selection stunts social mobility, discriminates against children on the basis of their assumed religion, and segregates them along religious and ethnic lines too. It is a stain on our education system and the sooner both the Government and the schools themselves realise this, the better.’


For further comment or information please contact BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman on jay@humanists.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read the previous BHA story, ‘“The evidence shows this to be the very opposite of integration”: Humanists publish response to “faith” school admissions consultation’: https://humanists.uk/2016/12/12/the-evidence-shows-this-to-be-the-very-opposite-of-integration-humanists-publish-response-to-faith-school-admissions-consultation/

Read the Sutton Trust’s story: http://www.suttontrust.com/newsarchive/85-of-top-comprehensives-with-best-gcses-are-socially-selective-but-schools-where-pupils-make-most-progress-are-much-less-so/
Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.