Vulnerable children denied school places because of faith admissions – regulator

28 April, 2023

Some of the most vulnerable children in England are continuing to miss out on school places because of faith-based admissions, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) has said. Humanists UK, which has long campaigned for fair school admissions for all children regardless of background, said the findings were disgraceful.

‘Whatever your views on faith schools,’ said Robert Cann, Humanists UK’s Education Campaigns Manager, ‘It simply cannot be right that publicly funded institutions are permitted to pick and choose whether they admit marginalised pupils purely on the basis of religious background.’

The OSA is the impartial body that regulates English schools’ compliance with the School Admissions Code. Its annual report, published last week, noted that in local authority areas where ‘schools with a religious character give the highest priority only to looked after children of their own faith’ – something which they are legally permitted to do – looked after children not of that faith may well not gain places’. The report goes on to say this can ‘limit the scope for looked after and previously looked after children to gain admission to a good or outstanding school.’ This is the third annual report in which this issue has been raised.

Looked after and previously looked after children (the formal name for children who are or were in care) represent some of the most disadvantaged in the country, with the latest figures showing that 66% of such children have been subject to abuse or neglect, and a further 13% have suffered ‘family dysfunction’.

As a result of these difficulties, care-experienced children tend to have poorer educational outcomes than their peers, making it extremely important that they attend a good local school. Further, good local provision can be even more important for fostered children since carers are often responsible for multiple children and may already have lengthy or complicated school runs to navigate.

This tells us that many faith schools are knowingly neglecting their duty to admit children from care backgrounds. All schools are required to prioritise care-experienced children in their admissions. A faith-based loophole in the law tragically allows faith schools to favour all children who are deemed to share the faith (including those who aren’t care-experienced) over care-experienced children from non- and other religious backgrounds. In 2021 research by Humanists UK found that 76% of Catholic secondary schools and 100% of Jewish secondary schools discriminate against care-experienced children in this way.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann said:

‘It is disgraceful that, despite the Office of the Schools Adjudicator repeatedly raising the fact that faith-based admissions disadvantage some of our most vulnerable children, the Government has done nothing to tackle this issue.

‘Whatever your views on faith schools, it simply cannot be right that publicly funded institutions are permitted to pick and choose whether they admit marginalised pupils purely on the basis of religious background. Many religious schools already manage to operate without such policies – this includes 99% of Church of England secondaries and 100% of Sikh and Hindu secondaries – and we applaud them for that. However, taking care of disadvantaged children must not be treated as one option among many. On this basis, we will continue to lobby the Government to make non-discriminatory admissions a legal requirement for all schools regardless of religious character.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Public Affairs Manager Karen Wright at or phone 020 7324 3078.

Read the full OSA report.

Read our latest article on the new Humanists UK guide to religion in schools.

Read our report Careless or Uncaring? How faith schools turn away children who are or were in care.

Read more about our work on state-funded faith schools.

Sign our petition to end faith-based selection in schools.

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.