80% of parents think state schools should have a mix of pupils from different backgrounds, new report finds

27 February, 2020

80% of parents think state schools should admit pupils from a variety of different backgrounds and a further 76% believe that they should reflect the make-up of the local community, according to new research by the Sutton Trust.

The poll, published today, also found strong support for reducing segregation and improving social mix among senior school leaders and teachers, with 71% of the former and 69% of the latter saying this would have a positive effect in schools. However, despite most teachers and school leaders thinking that segregation is a problem for many schools, most deny that it is an issue in their own schools. Teachers in the most socially selective schools – including faith schools –  are most likely to say segregation is not a problem where they work. The poll found just 11% of faith school leaders say they take the issue of social selection very strongly into account when drawing up admissions policies, as opposed to 21% of those who lead local authority schools without a religious character.

A further report by the same academics who conducted the poll – Professor Simon Burgess (University of Bristol), Professor Anna Vignoles (University of Cambridge) and doctoral researcher, Ellen Greaves (University of Bristol) – also published by the Sutton Trust, suggests that complex faith-based admissions policies contribute to worsening segregation at religious schools, which are already among the most socially selective in the country. It recommends that the criteria according to which schools judge religious observance should be made simpler so they don’t allow more affluent, better-educated parents an unfair advantage. However, the report falls short of proposing the abolition of admissions which discriminate on faith grounds altogether.

Humanists UK, which campaigns for a fully inclusive education system which does not permit schools to discriminate against or privilege pupils on faith grounds, has welcomed the poll but says the recommendations on religious admissions don’t go far enough.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager, Ruth Wareham commented: ‘It is great to learn that the vast majority of parents believe that schools should reflect the diversity of their local communities and enable children from a wide variety of backgrounds to learn alongside one another.

‘We have long been aware that religious selection worsens segregation, not only by faith and ethnicity, but also by levels of parental wealth and education. But, while the complex nature of faith-based admissions policy contributes to the problem of social selection, we don’t think it can be solved merely by simplifying them as the report recommends – not least because this will only reduce social selection among those who share a faith and who already tend to be more affluent as a group than those who aren’t religious.

‘The only way to adequately tackle social selection in religious schools is to abolish faith-based admissions policies entirely so that local state-funded schools are fully open to the community regardless of background.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read our most recent article on the first fully religiously selective state-funded school to be approved for a decade.

Read more about our work on faith schools and religious selection.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.