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Education Secretary Gillian Keegan makes dubious claims about faith schools

Pictured: Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan. Creative Commons, UK Parliament

Last week the Secretary of State for Education made some dubious claims about the unique power of Church of England faith schools, in a speech to the Church of England National Education Conference. Humanists UK, which campaigns for all schools to be equally inclusive of all pupils, said it was ‘disappointed’ by the rhetoric.

Gillian Keegan has been Secretary of State for Education since October 2022. In her speech on Friday she extolled the benefits of Church of England education, and seemed to imply a correlation between the religious underpinnings of schools and the quality of education they offer, stating:

‘Your [Church of England] schools are more likely to be good or outstanding than those without a religious character.’

This claim is often used by proponents of faith schools – including former education secretaries – as an argument for their continued privileges, with the implication being that a school is successful due to it having a religious ethos, rather than for any other reason. In fact, any statistical indication of faith schools’ higher success rates is the result of their discriminatory admissions policies. For example, Faith Primary Schools: Better Schools or Better Pupils? written by academics Steve Gibbons and Olmo Silva concluded that ‘there is no unambiguous performance advantage that cannot be attributed purely to pupil-side sorting into [faith] schools’. Furthermore, 2016 research by the Educational Policy Institute found ‘a systematic negative correlation between school intakes with more disadvantaged children, or more children with low prior attainment, and with favourable Ofsted judgements.’ This means that the more disadvantaged pupils a school admits, the lower its Ofsted score will tend to be.

State-funded faith schools are often imposed upon communities as a ‘take it or leave it’ option, discriminate against vulnerable children in their admissions policies, and contribute to community segregation.

Meanwhile, parents do not consider the faith ethos of a school to be important: a massive 94% said that it was not important to them when choosing a school. And the discriminatory admissions policies of faith schools have led to campaign groups being set up by parents, in opposition to the way that new faith schools can cream off the children of the wealthy and more advantaged.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann said:

‘It’s disappointing to see the Education Secretary talk up faith schools, and echo a line about their supposed success sometimes used by their proponents, when the evidence shows that their high performance is actually a consequence of their discriminatory nature.

‘It is high time that faith schools’ discriminatory practices in the curriculum, in admissions, and in who they employ, are recognised as just that. Such discrimination should be removed from all state schools for good.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about our work on state funded faith schools.

Read Gillian Keegan’s speech to the Church of England National Education Conference.

Read our article about a faith school imposed upon communities as a ‘take it or leave it’ option.

Read our article about how faith schools discriminate against vulnerable children in their admissions policies.

Read our article about how faith schools can contribute to community segregation.

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.

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