80% of public oppose Government plans to remove cap on faith-based school admissions in England

30 May, 2017

The Accord-commissioned poll reveals overwhelming opposition to the Government’s plans

80% of the population, including 79% of Anglicans and 67% of Catholics, are opposed to plans that would extend the freedom of religious schools in England to use faith-based criteria in their admission arrangements, a new poll commissioned by the Accord Coalition has revealed.

Last year the Government announced proposals to allow all new and existing ‘faith’ schools to religiously select 100% of their places, scrapping the rules that have been in place since 2007 which require new Academies and Free Schools to keep at least half of their places open to all local children irrespective of religion or belief.

When asked by Populus to choose between keeping the 50% cap on religious selection or allowing state-funded ‘faith’ schools to religiously select all of their pupils, 80% of respondents thought that the cap should be maintained, compared to just 20% who were in favour of full religious selection.

Interestingly, 79% of Anglican respondents and 67% of Catholic respondents also agreed that there should be this limit on faith-based admissions at state-funded schools. This is despite the fact that the Government’s proposals to drop the cap came largely at the behest of the Catholic Education Service (CES), highlighting that the religious lobby does not share the views of the people it claims to represent.

In addition to being unpopular, the move has been denounced by various pieces of evidence and research demonstrating that the cap has been largely successful in achieving its aims. Last year, for instance, Humanists UK published research revealing that the 50% cap had been hugely effective in boosting integration within religious free schools, and in improving the access of local families to their schools. And in December the Education Policy Institute noted that ‘faith’ schools take significantly fewer children from poorer backgrounds than do schools without a religious character, concluding that if the objective of government policy is to increase social mobility, [removing the 50% cap] is unlikely to be effective’.

Previous polling has found that 72% of the population would favour getting rid of religious selection by state schools entirely, never mind about getting rid of it for half of places, which these latest results show is supported by 80%.

Humanist UK Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘It is no surprise at all that the Government’s proposal to massively increase the extent of religious discrimination and segregation in the education system is unpopular. Religious and non-religious people alike recognise that both children and society are best served when people from a range of different backgrounds are brought together to learn with and from one another, and that is exactly what the 50% cap sought to achieve. We urge all political parties to commit to dropping this divisive and unpopular move immediately.’


For further comment or information please contact Humanist UK’s Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on jay@humanists.uk 0207 324 3078.

Poll findings

Populus interviewed 2,033 living in Britain between 5-7 May 2017. Data was weighted to be demographically representative of all British adults aged 18+. Populous is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. The results by respondents religious affiliation are set out in the table below. The full survey results and field work data can be found at: http://accordcoalition.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Religious-Schools-Survey.pdf  

There is currently debate about new state funded faith schools showing preference for, or discriminating against, prospective pupils on faith grounds and the religious background of children. Since 2010 nearly all new state funded schools in England have been permitted to select up to half their pupils on the basis of religion, but no more than 50%. The other places must be left open to children whose parents choose to apply, regardless of what beliefs they have or do not have. Some support this approach, such as to help ensure schools admit a more mixed group of pupils, whereas others think such schools should be able to concentrate on children of the same faith. Thinking about new state funded faith schools showing preference for, or discriminating against, prospective pupils on religious grounds, which of these comes closest to your view?

Total respondents Christian – CofE/Anglican/Episcopalian Roman Catholic Non-religious
New state funded faith schools should be allowed to religiously select up to a maximum of 50% of pupils on the basis of faith 1621 (80%) 550 (79%) 101 (67%) 715 (85%)
New state funded faith schools should be allowed to select up to 100% of their pupils on the basis of faith 412 (20%) 151 (21%) 50 (33%) 127 (15%)


Read the Government’s green paper, where it sets out its proposals to scrap the 50% faith discrimination cap:


See Humanist UK’s previous news item ‘New evidence shows Government proposals to allow 100% religious selection in schools will lead to increased segregation’:


Read Humanist UK’s news item ‘Exposed: Catholic hypocrisy in calls for end to restrictions on religious selection in schools’: https://humanists.uk/2016/09/09/exposed-catholic-hypocrisy-in-calls-for-end-to-restrictions-on-religious-selection-in-schools/

Read Faith Schoolers Anonymous’s news item ‘Five ways the catholic church misled the government into a u-turn on fairth school admissions’ at https://faithschoolersanonymous.uk/2016/09/five-ways-the-catholic-church-misled-the-government-into-a-u-turn-on-faith-school-admissions/

About the Accord Coalition

The Accord Coalition was launched in 2008 and brings together religious and non-religious organisations (including Humanist UK) who want state funded schools to be made open and suitable to all, regardless of people or their family’s religious or non-religious beliefs. It campaigns to end religious discrimination in school staffing and admissions, and for all state funded schools to provide PSHE, as well as assemblies and Religious Education that boost mutual understanding and teach about the broad range of beliefs in our increasingly diverse society. http://accordcoalition.org.uk/

About Humanists UK

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and campaigning work, we’re committed to creating a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanists.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/