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Minority ethnic and poor pupils significantly less likely to get places at church schools

New research has revealed that the average minority ethnic or poor pupil who applies for a place at a Church of England or Roman Catholic state school in England is significantly less likely to get that place when compared to the average white or better-off pupil. The research was conducted by Dr Matthew Weldon of the University of Lancaster on behalf of the Department for Education. Its findings are described as ‘striking’ by the report’s author. Humanists UK has called for an end to faith-based selection by state schools.

The report finds that:

‘Black families are 68% more likely to choose a Church [Church of England or Roman Catholic] school than white families, yet they are significantly less likely to be admitted to a Church school than a similar white family living nearby. If a white child and a black child apply for a single remaining seat at a Church school in London, the black child is less than half as likely to be admitted. We find similar results for other ethnic groups in London and other cities.

‘Likewise, a Pupil Premium-eligible child is significantly less likely to be admitted into a Church school she applies to, than a similar non-Pupil Premium child living nearby.’

‘…[In London] In a hypothetical comparison between a Pupil Premium child and a non-Pupil Premium child for a Church school place, the probability that the Pupil Premium child would not be admitted is 0.62. If a South Asian child is assessed for a single seat at a Church school alongside a white child, the corresponding probability that the South Asian child would not be admitted is 0.77… [In Birmingham and Manchester] for Church schools the estimates of selection effects for Pupil Premium and South Asian pupils are slightly larger than London.’

‘…there is some evidence that children with higher KS2 were more likely to be admitted into… autonomous Church schools.’

The author concludes that ‘The results do not imply that Church schools are cream-skimming pupils, nor do they provide evidence that admissions oversubscription criteria are not being applied consistently. However, the results provide strong evidence that differences in the composition of Church schools and other types of school cannot be explained entirely by parents’ preferences and are, at least in part, due to admissions constraints.’

The research comes on the back of another study by different University of Lancaster academics, that concluded that the complexity of faith school admissions criteria was likely to lead poorer families less able to secure places. Humanists UK’s own landmark research has in the past exposed the extent of this complexity, and the consequences this has on the makeup of pupils that are admitted.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘What this research shows is that the reason fewer minority ethnic and poor families get their children into faith schools is not because they are less likely to apply, but because they are less likely to meet the admissions criteria. This underlines the fact that faith-based admissions criteria not only segregate on the basis of religion, but also segregate on the basis of ethnicity and family income.

‘Against this backdrop it is appalling that the UK Government has chosen to let new, fully selective religious schools open. We urge the Government to reverse its decision and instead work to desegregate schools.’


For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or on 0207 324 3072.

Read the new research:

Read Humanists UK’s previous news item ‘Faith school admissions benefit affluent families and are too complex says new study’:

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on faith schools:

At Humanists UK, we want a tolerant world where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work helps people be happier and more fulfilled, and by bringing non-religious people together we help them develop their own views and an understanding of the world around them.

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