Faith-based school admissions disadvantage non-religious and minorities, Humanists UK tells Liverpool Council

10 August, 2020

Schools should be diverse, inclusive, and open to all

Admissions policies that permit faith schools to select their pupils on religious grounds disadvantage the non-religious, ethnic and religious minorities, and the poor, Humanists UK has told Liverpool Council.

In a letter to the chair of the Council’s Education and Children’s Services Select Committee – which during its latest meeting established a scrutiny panel to examine ‘how rules on admissions could disadvantage children from ethnic and religious minorities’ – Humanists UK highlighted new research that shows just how difficult religious selection makes it for the non-religious and those of minority faiths to get a place at a local school in Liverpool.

A large proportion of schools in the city  have a religious character and are able to select most or all of their pupils by faith background, effectively shutting many families out of their local schools altogether. In some postcodes, the majority of the closest secondary schools are faith schools, forcing pupils to apply further afield. This is a problem since distance is usually the key criterion for admission in schools without a religious character. In many cases, religious selection means that minority faith or non-religious parents have no real school choice at all.

The new research by Humanists UK shows that to secure a school rated good or higher in one part of West Derby, the parents of a boy going in to Year 7 would be forced either to apply for a school with a religious ethos they don’t share (and, in all but one case, are unlikely to be allocated a place at), or accept a place at a school that is rated inadequate or requires improvement by Ofsted. And, in another area of Kensington and Fairfield, the parents of a boy wanting a school without religious character would have had access to just one good school that was undersubscribed last year and is the 13th furthest away from their home.

The Council’s scrutiny panel was established after a group of Muslim parents from the Princes Park area of Liverpool met with councillors to explain how the admissions criteria of local faith schools had led to their children being placed at schools on the other side of the city.

The letter goes on to explain how religious selection doesn’t just segregate pupils by religion, but along ethnic and socio-economic lines, as well as by prior attainment and ‘has a very clear impact…, not only on the ability of parents to send their children to local schools, but also on efforts to build tolerance and mutual respect between different religious and non-religious groups.’   . It also calls attention to the studies that show it is this selectivity, rather than a faith ethos, that accounts for any differences in attainment between schools with and without a religious character, and calls for the Council to do all it can to ensure that schools in Liverpool are inclusive and open to children from all backgrounds.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said: ‘We are pleased that Liverpool Council is planning to consider the impact religious selection has on ethnic and religious minorities. However, in order for the scrutiny panel to be effective, it must look at the broader effect of these policies on a variety of different groups, including the non-religious and the poor.

‘There is an array of robust evidence showing that faith-based admissions segregate children not simply by religion, but also by ethnicity, prior attainment, and family wealth. These issues are particularly acute in Liverpool, where there is more religious selection than in most parts of the country. This kind of segregation is bad for children, bad for families, and bad for communities, which are more likely to be fractured when children are denied the opportunity to mix with others who are different from themselves. We therefore urge the Council to do all it can to ensure that schools in Liverpool are diverse, inclusive, and open to all regardless of background.’

Chair of Liverpool Humanists Nick Senior commented: ‘Liverpool has a very high proportion of faith schools and, because of faith-based admissions policies, in some areas, it is virtually impossible for families from non-religious backgrounds to access a good local school, much as it is for those of minority faiths. This is not only deeply unfair for the families who have been shut out of their local schools on grounds of their beliefs, but it threatens social integration. Liverpool is one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in the country and, as such, ought to be leading the way on these issues. I very much hope this panel marks the start of a new, more inclusive era for our schools.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.

Read the letter to Councillor John Prince

Read our most recent article on unfair and discriminatory faith-based admissions policies acting as a barrier to socio-economic diversity in schools.

Read our 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.