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Baroness Bakewell grills Government on faith school admissions

The over-provision of religious schools ‘effectively [forces] children into faith schools against their parents’ wishes’ Baroness Joan Bakewell told members of the House of Lords yesterday.

Baroness Bakewell, who is the Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG), raised the issue in her response to a statement made by the Government’s education spokesman Lord Agnew that faith school admissions ‘will not disadvantage unfairly a child from a particular social or racial group’. The statement was made in response to an oral question Baroness Bakewell asked.

However, Baroness Bakewell highlighted the fact that, although 52% per cent of British adults identify themselves as having no religion, ‘almost three in 10 families in England live in areas where most or all of the closest primary schools are faith schools’. This means that many are compelled to apply for places at schools with a religious ethos even though they would prefer their children to attend community schools.

What’s more, religious selection in admissions means that non-religious applicants to religious schools (as well as those that don’t share the faith of the school) may legally be placed at the back of the queue for places, so risk missing out on a local school place altogether. This issue was highlighted in a recent letter to the Sunday Times, co-organised by Humanists UK and the Accord Coalition, and signed by over 180 high-profile figures, including around 40 high-profile religious leaders and spokespeople.

Lord Agnew defended the Government’s position, including the introduction of more 100% religiously selective school places as part of a new capital funding scheme for voluntary aided schools, on the basis of parental demand and high attainment. Speaking specifically of Catholic schools he said, ‘They get higher results, on average, than the state system and they started free education in this country before the Government.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented: ‘It is hugely disappointing to hear the Government failing to engage with the research on religious admissions in favour of repeating myths about faith schools that have been debunked time and time again. The evidence on religious selection is very clear – the practice not only limits parental choice by restricting access to local schools on the basis of family background, but it segregates pupils by faith, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and prior attainment.

‘Indeed, research from the Education Policy Institute, of which Lord Agnew himself is a board member, says that the better results attributed to faith schools arise from their more advantaged intakes and religious selection has a segregating impact on local communities. The Government must stop putting its head in the sand over these issues and reform the system so that state schools are diverse, inclusive, and open to all irrespective of their religious background.’


For more information, contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725110860.

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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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