UK Government ignores calls to stop faith schools refusing to admit children in care

17 May, 2021

The UK Government has ignored calls to scrap a policy allowing English faith schools to refuse to admit children who are or were in care. Instead they can prioritise other children ‘of the faith’. Humanists UK has slammed the decision, saying it puts religious privilege ahead of the right to education for the most vulnerable.

The Government comments came in response to a public consultation on changes to the School Admissions Code. The changes were designed to improve school access for disadvantaged children, including those who are or were in care – known in law as looked after and previously looked after children. The Government received 1,160 responses commenting on ‘the ability of schools with a designated religious character to admit children on the grounds of their religion or belief… A large number of these raised concerns about faith schools who choose to prioritise children of the faith over looked after and previously looked after children not of the faith’.

Schools with a religious character are legally allowed to select up to 100% of their pupils by faith. All state schools are supposed to give some priority to children who are or were in care in their admissions. State schools without a religious character must in fact prioritise all such children. But faith schools can favour all children from families that share the faith over children who are or were in care but do not share that faith.

The Government did not engage with this criticism in its response. Instead, it said only that it ‘remains committed in its support for church and other faith schools’. It is for ‘the admission authority of those individual faith schools to decide whether or not to adopt these arrangements’. In other words, religious schools may continue to not allocate places to vulnerable children first. Instead they may favour those from more advantaged families because they share the faith.

Children who are or were in care comprise 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 are 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. This compares to 40.1% of all other children.

Research also demonstrates that faith-based admissions policies have a disproportionate impact on the ability of poor and minority ethnic children, as well as those from non-religious families, to secure a school place. And religious selection has also been demonstrated to lead to community segregation. This robs children of opportunities to mix with those from different backgrounds. It potentially leads to greater levels of intolerance and mistrust between groups.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:

‘It is outrageous that the UK Government is allowing faith schools to keep discriminating against the most vulnerable children in our society merely because of their background. That this has happened during a review that was supposed to support such children to access school places more easily, is particularly difficult to justify. Children who are or were in care already experience huge barriers in securing education. That would be true even without putting religious privilege ahead of the basic right to education.

‘The Government should immediately scrap these provisions. Better yet, it should abolish discriminatory faith-based admissions policies altogether. Instead, it should make sure 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 Dr Ruth Wareham at or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.

Read the UK Government’s consultation response.

Read our original article about the consultation.

Read our recent article on the CofE and Board of Deputies anti-racism reports that overlook faith school admissions.

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

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