Groundbreaking new research reveals ‘faith’ schools exclude poorest pupils

New, highly significant research carried out by the Guardian and published today for the first time has revealed the huge extent to which English ‘faith’ schools exclude pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM). The British Humanist Association (BHA) has urged the government to end faith-based selection in state schools.

It has long been known that ‘faith’ schools take fewer pupils eligible for FSM than average, but always been retorted that this is because ‘faith’ schools are typically in more rural areas where there are less poor families.

The Guardian decided to see if this is true. Their research looks at all ‘faith’ schools and compares them to others in their same local authority and their same post code. Findings include:

  • For Catholic schools, 73% of primaries and 72% of secondaries take fewer pupils eligible for FSM than the average in their local authority (LA); 76% of primaries and 65% of secondaries take fewer pupils than the average in their post code.
  • For Church of England schools, 74% of primaries and 65.5% of secondaries take fewer pupils eligible for FSM than the average in their local authority (LA); 63.5% of primaries and 40% of secondaries take fewer pupils than the average in their post code.
  • On the other hand, for schools without a religious character, 51% of primaries and 45% of secondaries take fewer pupils eligible for FSM than the average in their local authority (LA); while 47% of primaries and 29% of secondaries take fewer pupils than the average in their post code.

Therefore, schools without a religious character take more than their fair share of pupils eligible for free school meals. Catholic schools (which are all able to religiously discriminate in admissions) take much less than their fair share, while Anglican schools (only some of which are able to religiously discriminate) take more than Catholic schools but still less than one would expect.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘Repeated academic studies have shown that, in state schools that select on religious grounds, there end up being fewer pupils from poorer backgrounds and that any selection favours more affluent parents who know how to play the system.

‘By looking more closely than any previous research, today’s data strongly reconfirms this picture, and gives further cause for concern that allowing religious discrimination within our state system exacerbates socio-economic inequality as well as being religiously and ethnically divisive.

‘Following on from today’s results, we urge the government to end faith-based selection in all state-funded schools.’

Why does it happen? – Explaining how religious selection leads to socio-economic selection

It is simplest to explain this by using an example. Let’s say there are two schools in a town – one an inclusive community school, and one a religiously selective ‘faith’ school. Let’s say, for whatever reason, the ‘faith’ school performs slightly better (as one would expect it to some of the time).

It then follows that for many parents, it becomes more desirable to get their children into the ‘faith’ school. And more ambitious parents, typically from wealthier backgrounds, are likely to work harder to manipulate the system – for example, by attending church when they otherwise wouldn’t – to get their children into the stronger school. In other words, the selection process itself cuts out the pupils from the poorest backgrounds; and so the school ends up with more parents who will push their children to perform better; and so the school performs even stronger than its neighbours; and so the cycle perpetuates.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.

Read the Guardian report, Church schools shun poorest pupils: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/mar/05/church-schools-shun-poorest-pupils

Read the Guardian report, Faith schools and free school meals: case studies: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/mar/05/faith-schools-meals-case-studies

Read the Guardian data blog, How many poor children go to faith schools?: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/mar/05/faith-schools-admissions

Read the Guardian data blog, Faith schools in England: every one mapped: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/interactive/2012/mar/05/faith-schools-free-school-meals

Read the Guardian editorial, Religious schools: Testing faith: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/05/faith-schools-data-base-inequality

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

View the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character: http://www.humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/schools-with-a-religious-character.pdf

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.