In the wake of new Church of England statistics showing that average weekly church attendance has dropped below one million in England for the first time, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has revealed that more people are now being educated in state-funded CofE schools, attending compulsory collective worship every day, than attend CofE churches each week. According to the Statistics for Mission 2014 released by the Church of England on Tuesday, an average of 980,000 people attended church each week in 2014, down from the 1,009,100 initially calculated for 2013. However, Department for Education statistics showed 1,027,584 children were enrolled at Church of England schools in 2014, surpassing the figure for weekly church attendance for the first time. The law requires those pupils to take part in a daily act of collective worship that is Anglican in nature. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has said the figures expose the increasing absurdity of the influence that religious groups have over our schools, and repeated its calls for a fully inclusive education system.
Despite the continuing decline both of those attending church each week and those who describe themselves as belonging to the Church of England, ‘faith’ schools continue to account for over a third of all state-funded schools, and all schools, regardless of whether or not they have a religious character, are still obliged to hold a daily act of worship.
The figures also call into question the appropriateness of a system in which so many schools are able to prioritise children on the basis of church attendance in their admission arrangements. 16% of all school places in England are subject to religious admission criteria, and both Church of England research and independent polling have revealed that a huge number of parents are forced to attend church simply to get their children into their local school – a practice variously known as ‘pew-jumping’, ‘prayers for places’, and ‘on your knees or pay the fees’. Indeed, in 2014, various research published as part of the Church of England’s Church Growth Research Programme found that church growth is strongest in areas that have an oversubscribed, religiously selective school, and even suggested that proximity to an oversubscribed school was something that churches should seek to ‘engineer’.
BHA Campaigns Manager, Richy Thompson, commented, ‘Setting aside what these latest attendance figures say about the claim that England is still a “Christian country”, it’s incredibly alarming that the church has been able to increase its grip on the education system despite representing fewer and fewer people year on year. It’s well-known that a great many parents are forced to attend church each week in order to enjoy the simple right of having their children educated at a local school, and more than anything, these statistics demonstrate that this problem will only get worse.
‘Schools should be places where children of all different backgrounds and beliefs can learn with and from each other, free from the spectre of undue religious influence or discrimination, and it is wholly inappropriate for the churches to be using schools as a recruitment tool and a means to fill their pews in the face of dwindling numbers. Given these figures, the proliferation of “faith” schools can only lead to a less fair, more discriminatory future, and we will certainly be using them as we continue to campaign for a secular and inclusive system.’
For further comment and information, please contact BHA Faith Schools and Education Campaigner, Jay Harman, on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7324 3078.
See the full breakdown of weekly church attendance as compared to the number of pupils at Church of England schools: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016-01-12-JH-Church-pupils-vs-average-attendance.xlsx
Graph showing the fall in weekly church attendance as compared to the rise in pupils enrolled at Church of England schools:
See the full Church of England Statistics for Mission 2014: https://www.churchofengland.org/media/2432327/2014statisticsformission.pdf
See the full Church of England Statistics for Mission 2013: https://www.churchofengland.org/media/2112070/2013statisticsformission.pdf
See the full Department for Education statistics on number of ‘faith’ schools and number of pupils by religious character of school: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Data-on-faith-schools.xlsx
See the BHA’s previous news item ‘New British Social Attitudes survey shows continued decline of Christianity in Britain’: https://humanism.org.uk/2015/06/01/new-british-social-attitudes-survey-shows-continued-decline-for-christianity-in-britain/
Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/
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.