Exposed: churches falsely claim their schools are inclusive of Muslim-background pupils

3 March, 2017

The Church of England’s schools are not nearly as inclusive as is being claimed

New research has called into question recent claims from the Church of England and Catholic Education Service that many of their schools take a majority of pupils from Muslim backgrounds. The research reveals that only a quarter of Church of England and Catholic schools situated in areas where most young people identify as ‘Muslim’ actually take most of their pupils from Muslim backgrounds.

Last month, the Church of England stated that despite ‘offering an education that is deeply Christian’, its schools are ‘wide open to the communities they serve’. Noting that ‘some still seem surprised when they hear of Church of England schools serving people of other faiths’, the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer Nigel Genders claimed that ‘part of the feedback we get about why parents choose our schools is they know they will get a much more diverse sense of community rather than being separated out’.

However, the analysis published today reveals that church schools are not nearly as inclusive as is being claimed. Using official data from the most recent Census, the analysis finds that there are 66 Church of England schools and 73 Roman Catholic schools in areas where most young people ticked ‘Muslim’ on the Census, far more than the 20 and 15 schools respectively that the Church of England and Catholic Education Service report as having Muslim-majority intakes. The figures mean that less than a third of such CofE schools and a fifth of such Catholic schools are actually representative of the Muslim-majority make-up of their areas.

The research adds more weight to the growing concern that the Government’s policy on and commitment to ‘faith’ schools will only entrench segregation within the education system. In September 2016, for instance, the Department for Education proposed to drop the existing requirement that all religious free schools keep at least half of their places open to local children irrespective of religion or belief, claiming that this so-called 50% cap on religious selection had failed to promote ethnic integration in schools. Contrary to this claim, however, BHA analysis using the DfE’s own data found that the cap had led to a significant boost in ethnic integration at religious free schools, leading to the UK Statistics Authority ordering the DfE to amend the misleading figures presented in its green paper.

Last year the Church of England announced that it plans to open more than 100 new schools before 2020, with the Catholic Education Service also announcing plans for up to 40, fully religiously selective new schools once the 50% cap is lifted.

BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘The idea that a school can be inclusive of all children and open to their entire community whilst at the same time espousing a distinctive religious ethos, holding distinctive religious worship, and teaching a distinctive and doctrinaire religious education syllabus, is false. It is promoted by religious organisations keen only to extend and strengthen their control over state-funded services like schools and their latest dubious claims – refuted today – are just the latest tactics in the same old strategy.

‘As we have done with this research and in the past, we will continue to challenge the misleading and anecdotal claims of the churches in relation to their schools, and present the very clear evidence that “faith” schools are and always have been divisive and discriminatory.’


For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on or 0207 324 3078.

For this research we analysed the number of pupils aged 0-14 at the time of the 2011 Census (and so still of school age in 2017) in each school’s local area. See the full list of Church of England/Catholic schools in Muslim-majority areas:

Read The Sunday Times report ‘Muslim pupils fill the pews at Anglican schools’:

Read Church of England Chief Education Officer Nigel Genders’ claims around the inclusivity of church schools:

See the BHA’s news item ‘Government publishes plans to allow full religious discrimination in school admissions’:

Read the BHA’s briefings on:

Read the BHA’s full response to the consultation:

See the BHA’s news item ‘Strong majority opposed to plans for school admissions on basis of religion’:

Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘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.