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CofE school performance down to better character education, claims Secretary of State


Humanists UK has expressed disappointment that the Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds yesterday attributed good performance by Church of England schools to character education, ignoring evidence showing that higher levels of attainment by these schools are generally the result of selective pupil intakes favouring those from more privileged backgrounds.

Speaking to the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership Conference, Hinds said that the character education offered by Church schools is ‘grounded in virtues’ and ‘strong values’ which make pupils ‘better equipped for life’, and this is one of the reasons Church schools ‘get such good results’.

However, while 88% of Church schools were rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted and these schools often do well in Government league tables, studies have repeatedly shown that any difference in academic performance between religious and other schools is purely down to the background of the pupils they take in. For example, ‘Faith Primary Schools: Better Schools or Better Pupils?’ by Steve Gibbons and Olmo Silva concluded that ‘there is no unambiguous performance advantage that cannot be attributed purely to pupil-side sorting into [faith] schools’. What’s more, in 2016 research by the Educational Policy Institute found ‘a systematic negative correlation between school intakes with more disadvantaged children, or more children with low prior attainment, and with favourable Ofsted judgements.’ Meaning that the more disadvantaged pupils a school admits, the lower its Ofsted score will tend to be.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham Commented: ‘We are disappointed that the Secretary of State has chosen to perpetuate the myth that Church schools perform better than other types of school because of some kind of innate difference in the education they offer. There is absolutely no evidence to support the claim that the performance of Church schools is the result of a special type of Christian character education focused on cultivating virtues.

‘There is, however, plenty of robust evidence to show that, like other kinds of religious school, to the extent to which Church of England schools enjoy higher levels of attainment and are rated more highly by Ofsted, this is because they fail to take their fair share of disadvantaged pupils. If “character” can be engineered simply through socio-economic selection then what message are we sending our children?’

To read about our campaign to prevent 100% religiously selective voluntary aided schools and email your MP go to


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078.

For more information about our faith schools campaign work, visit

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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