Case for faith school reform grows stronger

By Simon Barrow
November 19, 2011

The Office of the Schools Adjudicator’s determination in relation to Coloma Convent Girls' School’s admission policy ( is another positive step forward in the long campaign for properly inclusive and open schooling.

It is particularly encouraging that the Catholic Diocese concerned brought the case itself - a fact which renders extremely odd the claim of some church and campaign groups that reform of faith schools is somehow anti-religious.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Discrimination and exclusion through admissions, practice and employment have no place in a school claiming Christian 'ethos' and community benefit.

Yet there is a very long way to go in gaining implementation of the sensible changes promoted by the Accord Coalition, which Ekklesia helped to set up, and which brings together religious and non-religious people and groups to work for change.

The need for reform is clearly illustrated by the evidence.

The report "Faith Schools: Admissions and Performance', published by the House of Commons Library in March 2009, showed that: “Overall faith schools have a lower proportion of pupils with SEN [special educational needs].

In 2008, 1.2 per cent of pupils at mainstream state faith schools had statemented SEN and 15.9 per cent unstatemented. This compares to 1.7 per cent statemented and 18.9 per cent unstatemented [at] schools with no religious character.” (page 5).

A parliamentary question from Adrian Sanders MP answered on 25 February 2009 found that 11.5 per cent of pupils at faith schools were in receipt of free schools meals, but the figure was 15.7 per cent in non-faith schools.

Can Competition Improve School Standards? The Case of Faith Schools in England (2009) by Dr Rebecca Allen and Dr Anna Vignoles found "… significant evidence that religious schools are associated with higher levels of pupil sorting across schools, but no evidence that competition from faith schools raises area-wide pupil attainment."

A 2007 study by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that where faith schools were their own pupil admissions authority they were ten times more likely to be highly unrepresentative of their surrounding area than other state maintained schools.

An ICM survey for Channel 4 in August 2010 found that 59 per cent of adults believed schools should be for everyone, regardless of religion.

A survey by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner in their March 2011 report ‘Children and Young People’s View on Education Policy’ found that pupils opposed schools selecting on the grounds of religion by 64 per cent to 20 per cent (page 27).


© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia and a member of the steering group of the Accord Coalition.

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