Tory leader David Cameron has refused to condemn parents who pretend that they have Christian beliefs in order to win places in church schools.
His comments came in an interview for the Times newspaper.
Almost a quarter of parents in London would lie about their faith to get their children into school, according to a survey by the Children's Society in October last year. A survey in 2004 by YouGov reached similar conclusions.
Church schools routinely discriminate, giving priority in admissions to children of parents who attend churches connected to the schools - even though the schools are funded by the taxpayer.
But the Tory leader refused to criticise the “middle-class parents with sharp elbows”.
Asked for his views on the families accused of playing the system, he says: “I think it’s good for parents who want the best for their kids. I don’t blame anyone who tries to get their children into a good school. Most people are doing so because it has an ethos and culture. I believe in active citizens.”
Mr Cameron will learn this year whether his own daughter has won a place at a state-funded Church of England school in Kensington, West London.
The Times newspaper also reported earlier this month a surge in late baptisms into the Catholic Church, further evidence that some parents may be finding religion at a convenient moment in their children’s education.
Fears that middle-class parents are adopting religion to get their children into popular schools have led some Labour MPs to call for an end to the expansion of faith schools.
Criticism has also come from the religious thinktank Ekklesia which have pointed out that whilst church schools wilfully pursue policies which discriminate and encourage parents to lie about their faith, they cannot claim with any seriousness to have a 'Christian ethos'.