The Department for Education yesterday released new primary school league tables showing that faith schools comprised of over two-thirds of those schools with top SATS results, even though they account for less than 40% of primary schools.
(SATS are Standard Assessment Tests, given at the end of year two, year six and year nine. They are used to show a child's progress compared with other children born in the same month.)
The chair of the Accord Coalition for inclusive schooling, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, commented: "The strong performance from faith schools is entirely predictable given that all recent research - including the government's own findings - show that religious entry requirements lead to covert social selection."
"This is done either deliberately, for example by getting prospective pupils to write statements about their religious beliefs and therefore gaining insights as to their levels of articulation, spelling, punctuation and sentence structure; or indirectly, because insisting on regular church attendance means automatically privileging higher socio-economic groups, as families from those groups are more likely to regularly attend church," said Dr Romain. "Thatin turn skews faith schools' social and ability profile and boosts their results."
He added: "This is why the former Department of Children, Schools and Families 2008 report on the effectiveness of the School Admissions Code found that faith schools were the schools most likely not to comply with the schools admissions code by engaging in practices that were favourable to those with greater social capital and higher socio-economic status."
"If people want selection, then be up-front and have Grammar Schools – but do not use religion as a mask for it. Publicly-funded faith schools should serve the entire local community," said the Accord chair.
The Accord Coalition (http://accordcoalition.org.uk/ ) was launched in September 2008 and brings together a wide range of religious and non-religious organisations and individuals campaigning for an end to religious discrimination in school staffing and pupil admissions.
The Coalition also works for a fair and balanced Religious Education (RE) curriculum, for pupils to receive Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, and for the replacement of the requirement for compulsory daily Collective Worship with inspiring and inclusive assemblies. It does not take a position for or against faith schools in principle. Its growing list of members and supporters include the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches,the British Humanist Association, and members from the four largest groupings in parliament.
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".
Faith Schools: Admissions and Performance (2009) fromthe House of Commons Library reviewed evidence on the relationship between admissions and performance in faith schools and found that "recent research on primary schools suggests that performance difference can largely be explained by prior attainment and background. The remaining differences are due to parental self-selection and selection methods used by some faith schools".
Faith Primary Schools: Better Schools or Better Pupils? (2009) by Stephen Gibbons and Olmo Sliva argued that "it appears that most of the apparent advantage of faith school education in England can be explained by differences between the pupils who attend these schools and those who do not".
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 in free schools meals, but 15.7 per cent in non-faith schools.
School Admissions Report: Fair choice for parents and pupils (2007) by Sarah Tough and Richard Brookes argued that "... schools have no reason to be their own admissions authorities, other than to select students by ability or socio-economic background".