Faith school admissions – expert reaction to British Humanist Association report

All schools have an admissions criteria to decide which children get places. Faith schools, those linked to a particular religion, set their admissions criteria according to faith but have to comply with the School Admissions Code.

The British Humanist Association, a charity working on the behalf of non-religious people, has found that many children are not being offered a place in a faith school. Their report, ‘An Unholy Mess’ has analysed the appeals parents and carers make when they have not been admitted to a faith school.

The report follows objections launched by the BHA and the pressure group, the Fair Admissions Campaign, to the admissions arrangements of 44 faith schools in different parts of the country.

Professor Stephen Gorard, School of Education, Durham University has researched school admissions. He commented:

“It has been clear for decades that at least some faith-based schools have been using admissions criteria that are either not legal or not in the public interest (Gorard, Taylor and Fitz 2003 Schools Markets and Choice Policies, Routledge). This new report suggests that the situation has not improved, and may even have worsened, despite the tightening up of legislation on fair admissions arrangements.

The examples are similar now to those from decades ago. Additional information is collected from families that is not required by the process but which may influence the allocation of places either deliberately or more likely inadvertently. This is at least part of the reason why the pupil intake to faith-based schools tends to be socially segregated (Gorard, S. (2015). The complex determinants of school intake characteristics and segregation, England 1989 to 2014. Cambridge Journal of Education).

Faith-based schools take fewer pupils with any measure of disadvantage than their neighbourhood would imply. This applies to eligibility for free school meals, and some minority ethnic groups. This then makes the pupil body appear easier to teach, and leads to the mistaken conclusion that such schools are somehow better in terms of performance. However, the evidence from the annual schools census in England over 30 years is that this problem is not unique to faith-based schools, applying also to grammar and free schools, and CTCs.”

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