New report: Non-religious denied access to hundreds of thousands of school places by targeted discrimination

18 June, 2018

  • Non-religious families are being denied access to hundreds of thousands of state school places by admissions policies that specifically discriminate against them
  • 40% of state secondary faith schools in England don’t just prioritise children who share the religion of the school, they prioritise children from all religious backgrounds over all children from non-religious backgrounds
  • Catholic state schools are by far the worst offenders – 60% discriminate against the non-religious in this way
  • A new report, entitled Non-religious Need Not Apply, details analysis of the admissions policies of every state secondary faith school in England.

Humanists UK, which campaigns against all religious discrimination in state school admissions, as well as against the state-funding of faith schools in general, has called for targeted discrimination against the non-religious to be banned.

In England, state schools with a religious character (faith schools) are able to discriminate against prospective pupils on the grounds of religion or belief, which is generally done to prioritise children from families who share the particular religion of the school. However, some schools additionally use this freedom to prioritise children from any sort of religious family over all children from non-religious families (for example, by first prioritising those of the faith of the school, then those of other faiths, before finally admitting the non-religious). While this targeted discrimination of the non-religious is not explicitly prohibited in law, Humanists UK has questioned whether or not it meets the legal requirement, found in the School Admissions Code, that all school admissions policies be ‘fair’. The report argues:

‘It is no less unjustified for a Church school to discriminate against non-religious families vis a vis the religious, than it would be for a Church school to discriminate against Muslims, say, vis a vis all other religious families. In both cases the discrimination would divide children who ought to be mixing, and in both cases questions would rightly be asked about what prejudices might have led to an effort to exclude these groups from schools.’

The report adds that ‘while non-religious families may or may not be comfortable sending their children to state faith schools – and in many parts of the country they have no choice – as taxpayers they should be entitled to equal access.’

Analysis of the admissions policies of all 637 secondary state faith schools in England reveals that non-religious families face additional restrictions in their access to 240,000 state secondary places in England (7.4% of all state secondary places) than they would if targeted discrimination against the non-religious did not take place.

The report’s other key findings include:

  • 60% of Catholic state secondary schools discriminate against the non-religious specifically – significantly more than any other kind of school
  • A quarter of Church of England state secondary schools prioritise children from different faiths over children from non-religious families
  • A fifth of Muslim schools and one in six Jewish schools discriminate against the non-religious specifically
  • 5% of ‘Other Christian’ schools discriminate against the non-religious in their admission arrangements

Humanists UK has raised the issue with the Office of the Schools Adjudicator – the body responsible for ensuring that schools’ admissions policies comply with the law – and is awaiting its ruling.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented,

‘The non-religious are a mistreated majority in England, singled out for discrimination in a significant proportion of the state schools they are largely responsible for funding. It is simply inconceivable that this kind of discrimination would be tolerated were it being Christians singled out, or Muslims, or Jews, so we see no reason why non-religious people should be treated any differently.

‘Schools’ admissions policies should be fair to families, treating them and their children equally regardless of their beliefs. Policies that discriminate against one group specifically are the antithesis of that and ought to be banned.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on or 0207 324 3078.

Read the full report Non-Religious Need Not Apply:

Read more about Humanists’ UK’s work on faith schools:

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 community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.