Faith school admissions discriminate against vulnerable children, Humanists UK tells Government

19 October, 2020

Discriminatory faith-based admissions policies disadvantage vulnerable children, particularly those who are or were in care, Humanists UK has told the Government.

Responding to a Department for Education (DfE) consultation on proposed changes to the School Admissions Code, Humanists UK voiced concern that provisions allowing faith schools to select 100% of their pupils based on faith had been left entirely untouched. This is despite the fact that the proposed changes are supposed ‘to support our most vulnerable and disadvantaged children’ and that the current law permits such schools to prioritise all children from families that share their religion over children who are or were in care but are not of that faith.

Children who are or were in care represent some of the most vulnerable people in society. 63% of children in care were placed in care due to being at risk of abuse and neglect. A further 14% are in care as a result of living in a family where the ‘parenting capacity is chronically inadequate’. Given these disadvantages, educational outcomes for children who are or were in care have been traditionally poorer than the national average. In 2019, only 7.2% of children who are or were in care received a threshold grade of 5 or above in both GCSE English and Mathematics, compared to 40.1% of all other children.

In addition to discriminating against children who are or were in care, research demonstrates that faith-based admissions policies have a disproportionate impact on the ability of poor and minority ethnic children, as well as those who are non-religious, to secure a school place. Religious selection has also been demonstrated to lead to community segregation, which robs children of opportunities to mix with those from different backgrounds, potentially leading to greater levels of intolerance and mistrust between groups. Indeed, a recent report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change found that young people who do not mix with those from other religions or beliefs are more likely to hold extremist views than those who do.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said: 

‘The impact of religious selection on the ability of the poor, ethnic minorities, and the non-religious is well-documented. However, the fact that faith schools may legally put children who are or were in care to the back of the queue for places solely on religious grounds will come as a shock to many. To consult on changes to the Code designed to support the most vulnerable but leave this provision untouched represents a huge oversight that risks further disadvantaging children who already face huge barriers to accessing education.

‘The Government must immediately scrap the legal provisions that allow faith schools to prioritise all children who share the school’s faith over these highly vulnerable pupils. Better yet, it should abolish discriminatory faith-based admissions policies altogether and ensure that all children have equal access to a school place irrespective of religion or belief.’


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 our most recent news item on school banned from using ‘unreasonable’ weekly church attendance criterion in admissions.

Read our article about extremist views being more common in young people who don’t mix with those with other beliefs.

Read our recent research on the impact of religiously selective admissions in Liverpool.

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.