New research maps divisive impact of religious selection in schools

By staff writers
December 3, 2013

The Fair Admissions Campaign has today published groundbreaking research into the extent of religious and socio-economic selection in state-funded English secondary schools, and its effect on social and ethnic inclusion.

Launched in map form, for the first time this research scores how religiously selective, socio-economically inclusive and ethnically inclusive every mainstream state secondary school in England is.

Users are able to see profiles for individual schools, compare and rank different schools in their area and nationally, and see how segregated different denominations, dioceses and local authorities are. It can be viewed at

The Fair Admissions Campaign, which wants to ensure that all schools are open to children of whatever belief or religious background, is backed by a wide range of NGOs, including the Christian think-tank Ekklesia.

The research combines data from five main sources and hundreds of admissions directories. The map details the proportion of pupils each school is allowed to religiously select in its oversubscription criteria; how many pupils at the school are eligible for free school meals by comparison with its local area; and how many speak English as an additional language.

Key findings include the following:

* Comprehensive secondaries with no religious character admit 11 per cent more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected given their areas. Comprehensive Church of England secondaries admit 10 per cent fewer; Roman Catholic secondaries 24 per cent fewer; Jewish secondaries 61 per cent fewer; and Muslim secondaries 25 per cent fewer.
* There is a clear correlation between religious selection and socio-economic segregation: Church of England comprehensives that do not select on faith admit four per cent more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected, while those whose admissions criteria allow full selection admit 31 per cent fewer.
* 16% of schools select by religion but they are vastly overrepresented in the 100 worst offenders on free school meal eligibility and English as an additional language. They make up 46 of the worst 100 schools (and 67 out of 100 if we exclude grammar schools) on FSM eligibility and 50 of the worst 100 (55 if we exclude grammar schools) on EAL.
* The most segregated local authority as a result of religious selection is Hammersmith and Fulham. While 15 per cent of pupils nationally are eligible for free school meals, the segregation between the religiously selective schools and other schools is almost double that (27 percentage points).

The map represents the first time any data has ever been published on the degree of religious selection by faith schools. The Fair Admissions Campaign estimates that 16 per cent of places at state schools (or 1.2 million) are subject to religious selection criteria. This compares with five per cent of secondary places in grammar schools and per cent of all places in independent schools.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE commented: "This new research exposes the hypocrisy of those who claim religiously selective schools serve the community at large. It reveals that they not only further segregate children on religious and ethnic grounds, but also are skewed towards serving the affluent at the expense of the deprived.

"Crucially, the research also shows that the more a school is permitted to select children by faith, the greater the extent to which it is likely to socio-economically segregate. The data poses some very awkward questions for the state funded faith school sector, especially as many people of faith are appalled that schools that should focus on the poor have become so elitist."

Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, commented: "The Archbishop of Canterbury recently said that Church of England schools are moving away from religious selection and implied that he welcomed this. Sadly, the Church responded by reaffirming its policy of retaining the power to discriminate for or against pupils on the basis of their beliefs.

"Ekklesia has long maintained that religious selection undermines a true Christian ethos of love of neighbour and putting others first. In many cases it is also socially and economically divisive. This new research from the Fair Admissions Campaign, of which Ekklesia is an active supporter, shows the extent of selection by belief in state-funded schools. Rather than seeking to maintain these barriers, religious foundation schools should be dismantling them and giving priority to those in most need, whatever their belief background," he said.

Professor Ted Cantle CBE, who chaired The Cantle Report into the 2001 race riots, and founded the Institute of Community Cohesion added: ‘This research clearly demonstrates the increasing balkanisation of our school system, with children growing up in separate communities with little chance of learning about others. It shows that education has done nothing to break down the “parallel lives” I described in 2001, rather they have been reinforced."

The Fair Admissions Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the British Humanist Association, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

* The map can be viewed at and a more in depth briefing (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document) at

* Figures comparing different religious denominations and Dioceses can be seen on the ‘Overall averages’ tab of the map. For a fuller methodology (including how schools’ local area figures are calculated), details of the sources used, responses to possible criticism and answers to other questions please see the ‘FAQs’ tab.


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.