‘Unfair and discriminatory faith-based admissions policies are a barrier to socio-economic diversity in schools’ says Humanists UK

18 May, 2020

TAKE ACTION: If you are a parent whose child has been disadvantaged by religiously selective admissions policies, please respond to the Sutton Trust consultation by 28 July 2020.

You can read Humanists UK’s full consultation response to give you some ideas, but please adapt it in line with your personal experiences.

Humanists UK has told a high profile education charity that faith-based admissions policies represent a ‘key barrier’ to greater socio-economic diversity in the nation’s schools and should be abolished.

In its response to Comprehensively Fair: Making Fair Admissions Work for Everyone, a public consultation on how to improve state school admissions currently being conducted by The Sutton Trust, Humanists UK highlighted the wealth of evidence – including research conducted by The Sutton Trust itself – demonstrating that religious selection divides children by parental wealth and ethnicity, as well as by faith background. Humanists UK’s consultation response also pointed out that, because faith schools tend to admit more advantaged, more able pupils, the idea that their faith ethos makes them ‘better’ ends up becoming a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. This is in spite of the fact that, when the data controls for pupil background, studies looking at the effectiveness of faith schools compared to other types of school have tended to find the difference is negligible.

The consultation follows the publication of two pieces of research on school admissions, also published by the Sutton Trust, which show that 80% of parents think state schools should have a mix of pupils from different backgrounds, but that just 11% of faith school leaders say they take the issue of social selection very strongly into account when drawing up admissions policies (compared to 21% of those leading local authority schools) and despite faith-based admissions policies being found to contribute to worsening segregation.

Earlier this year, the Government nevertheless gave the green light to the most religiously selective state-funded school to open in over a decade in Peterborough, marking the first in a wave of new voluntary aided schools promised under a new capital funding scheme. The second round is set to be announced later this year.

Humanists UK Education Campaign Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said: ‘The evidence on religious selection couldn’t be clearer. It is unfair, discriminatory, and has a negative effect on social cohesion.

Given the demonstrably detrimental impact religious selection has on socio-economic, ethnic, and religious diversity, something must be done to address this situation. A cap on the proportion of pupils any faith school can prioritise on religious grounds like the one currently in place in free schools would mark a step in the right direction. However, the best solution would be to abolish faith-based admissions policies and ensure that state-funded schools are open to all pupils regardless of background.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager at ruth@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3000.

Read our full consultation response

Read our most recent article on the Sutton Trust poll saying 80% of parents think schools should have a mix of pupils from different backgrounds

Read our 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.