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Church of England ignore evidence showing improved faith school performance is due to selective admissions policies

League tables ranking English primary schools on their performance in English, Maths and Science tests taken by 11 year-olds were released by the Department for Children, Schools and Families yesterday.

While faith schools are disproportionately represented in the list of 200 schools with the highest marks for these subjects, they were evenly matched by community schools in the far more significant list of 200 schools which obtained the highest contextual value-added scores. Faith schools comprise of 36% of primary schools in England and comprised 74 of the 200 schools (37%) in this second category. Contextual value-added scores seeks to assess the progress made by pupils and take into account factors outside of a school’s control that are known to affect the performance of children, such as having special education needs, being in receipt of free school meals or having a first language other than English. Faith schools continue to take fewer than average numbers of children from these backgrounds.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, the Rev Jan Ainsworth, chief education officer for the Church of England, said however that ‘Claims that this performance is down to the selection of children by ability at the point of entry is a slur on the hard work of teachers, governors and parents’.

BHA Campaigns Officer Paul Pettinger said ‘Hard work should be celebrated in all schools. However, the Church of England cannot ignore the wealth of evidence which shows that the higher academic achievements of many Church schools can be accounted for by their selective admissions policies. It is a shoddy tactic for the Church to try to paint advocates of open and fair admissions in state-funded schools as thereby slurring teachers, governors or parents. In fact, many parents are discriminated against by Church schools admissions discrimination, and Britons in poll after poll and survey after survey have expressed their wish to see an end to this discrimination.’

‘Numerous studies have shown that selection on the grounds of religion skew a school’s social and ability profile, boosting its results and position in league tables. This in turn makes some Church schools more oversubscribed and so they become even more selective, attract the best teachers and get even better results. In contrast community schools do not enjoy the same control over what pupils they admit and suffer when near by faith schools adopt their own admissions policies.’


Faith Schools: Admissions and Performance (2009) by the House of Commons Library found that ‘recent research on primary schools suggests that performance difference can largely be explained by prior attainment and background. The remaining differences are due to parental self-selection and selection methods used by some faith schools. Further analysis of GCSE results shows a different pattern of results for faith and non-faith schools with similar governance arrangements and control over admissions. Non-faith schools perform better in certain categories, faith schools do best in others and there is no clear difference in some’.

In Dr Rebecca Allen’s evidence to Children Schools and Families Select Committee (2008) she said that ’in my most recent research … I was able to show that religious schools have higher ability and lower free school meal intakes compared with the neighbourhoods in which they are located. To give you an idea of the magnitude of those effects, if we take a community school and a voluntary-aided religious school, both located in a neighbourhood with exactly the same levels of deprivation, the community school is likely to have about 50% more free school meal children than the voluntary-aided school’.

School Admissions Report: Fair choice for parents and pupils (2007) from the Institute of Public Policy Research and by Sarah Tough and Richard Brookes found ‘… that secondary schools which are their own admission authorities are much less representative of their local area. ippr argues that schools have no reason to be their own admissions authorities, other than to select students by ability or socio-economic background’.

SMF: School Admissions: A Report of the Social Market Foundation Commission (2004), edited by M Moussa Haddad, found ‘… there is little evidence to support the notion that faith schools educate children better’.

Can Competition Improve School Standards? The Case of Faith Schools in England (2009) by Dr Rebecca Allen and Dr Anna Vignoles found ‘… significant evidence that religious schools are associated with higher levels of pupil sorting across schools, but no evidence that competition from faith schools raises area-wide pupil attainment’.

For further comment or information, contact Andrew Copson on 020 7079 3584 or 07534 248596.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity representing and supporting the interests of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

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