Parents exaggerate religious affiliation to secure local school places

13 January, 2022

About 6% of parents have exaggerated their religious affiliation in order to secure a local school place, according to research from Zoopla, the property website. Given that less than 1.5% of the population attends Church of England services in an average week, and that less than 4% of those of parent age attend any church on the average Sunday, the latest findings suggest that school admissions rules might substantially be driving parents’ church attendance.

Humanists UK – which has long campaigned for fully inclusive admissions policies in all state-funded schools – said the findings show the lengths the unjust system forces parents to go to, simply to access their local schools.

The survey asked parents if they had ‘bent the rules’ or ‘played the system’ to get into a school. One quarter (24%) said that they had. Of these, 27% admitted to playing up their adherence to a particular religion when it came to faith school admission procedures.

Faith schools are legally able to prioritise children by religion in their admissions policies. The evidence shows that faith-based admissions lead to selection, not only by religion, but also by parental wealth and ethnicity. And children from non-religious backgrounds are often put to the very back of the queue for places. The religious criteria used often relate to whether the parents are known to attend ‘regular worship’.

There is strong evidence to suggest that, even outside the pandemic, vulnerable and disadvantaged people, including those with disabilities and health conditions, as well as ethnic minorities, find it difficult to meet the criteria for ‘regular worship’. This means that their children are more likely to miss out on school places when these criteria are applied. Research demonstrates that this selection boosts the performance of faith schools when compared to other, more inclusive, schools in assessments and school league tables. As a result of this supposedly enhanced performance, they become more attractive to parents. Since what parents most care about is getting their children into the best-performing local school, this leads sharp-elbowed parents to attend church when they otherwise wouldn’t, thus perpetuating the socio-economic selection.

In October 2020, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator acknowledged that the policy requiring ‘weekly’ worship could put families off applying.

Education Policy Researcher Dr Ruth Wareham said:

‘These figures are not surprising. Is it any wonder that parents want to send their children to what they perceive as the best available local school and, if faced with an unjust system that would force them to make lengthy journeys to alternative, often worse-performing schools, will bend the rules to overcome that?

‘Furthermore many people, particularly the poor and vulnerable, struggle to meet overly demanding religious practice requirements. It is high time that religiously selective admissions became a thing of the past, and we urge the governments of the UK to scrap these outdated and divisive policies once and for all.’


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

Read our article on Pandemic policies on faith school admissions show why they should be scrapped altogether.

Read our article on the faith school requiring weekly church attendance deemed ‘unreasonable’ by the admissions tribunal.

Read Humanists UK’s Manifesto for inclusive schools.

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 100,000 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.