The UK Government has admitted it has no idea how many children in England are locked out of their local schools because of faith-based admissions policies. Nor does it know how many families have had to place their children in faith schools because there are no community schools in their local area. Humanists UK campaigns for inclusive schools that are open to children from all religion or belief backgrounds. It said the Government’s failure to keep data on these issues is ‘inexcusable’. It also means there is no real evidence that faith schools are particularly ‘popular with parents,’ as the Government claims.
The revelations came in response to a written question from All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) Chair, Crispin Blunt MP. Mr Blunt asked the Government ‘what estimate [it had] made of the number of pupils unable to access their nearest school because of religiously selective admissions.’ He also asked for an estimate of ‘the number of pupils with no reasonable choice other than to attend a faith school due to lack of secular provision in their area’.
Education Minister Nick Gibb said the Department for Education (DfE) has ‘not made an estimate’ of these important figures. He maintained that in 2021, ‘98% of parents received an offer from one of their top three choices of primary school, while 93.4% received offers from one of their top three choices of secondary school.’ But parents can only select from a limited number of schools and most don’t apply for schools their children are unlikely to get a place at. Therefore, these figures don’t tell the whole story.
Faith schools are legally permitted to prioritise children from religious backgrounds in their admissions policies. However, research shows that religious selection also acts as a proxy for selection by parental wealth and ethnicity. It also works against social cohesion. Some children who come from other religion or belief backgrounds are able to access places at state-funded faith schools. But the religious character of these schools means many parents would prefer a place at an inclusive, community ethos school. Humanists UK is increasingly being contacted by parents whose children have been allocated faith school places against their wishes. Yet there is often very little they can do to object. This is because the law only requires that children are offered a place at a school, not that the school conforms with the parents’ beliefs. This is just one reason why Humanists UK campaigns for schools that are suitable for children from all backgrounds, rather than based on one religious perspective.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:
‘It is inexcusable that the Government has no idea how many families are affected by these important issues. This is especially true as the unfounded claim that faith schools are popular with parents is regularly used as a reason to open increasing numbers of such schools. This often happens regardless of what local people have to say about it.
‘A recent Ofsted survey shows that 94% of parents don’t consider faith to be an important factor in choosing a school. The majority simply want a good local school with a broad and balanced curriculum. The Government should stop pouring public funds into new faith schools. Instead it should make sure that every new school place is inclusive and open to all children regardless of background.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.
Read our most recent article on the new faith school given approval because councillors were told ‘it’s this school or no school’.
Read our recent article on the Ofsted survey finding that 94% of parents think faith is not an important factor in school choice.
Read our recent article on anger as a council rejected a challenge to a Catholic school unfairly imposed on a newbuild community.
Read our article on data showing the number of pupils attending Church of England schools is more than the entire ‘worshipping community’.
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