Faith schools: Government doesn’t know how many state schools select children on the basis of religion

1st November, 2021 9:27 am

The National Secular Society said the Department for Education’s refusal to record the information meant that “transparency and scrutiny is impossible” 

The Government does not know how many state schools in England are currently selecting children based on their religious faith, i can reveal.

In response to a freedom of information request from the National Secular Society, the Department for Education said it “does not hold information on which schools select on the basis of religion as an element of their admissions criteria”.

The vast majority of state faith schools are Church of England and Roman Catholic, although there are a smaller number of schools representing other Christian denominations, along with the Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths.

Exemptions in the 2010 Equality Act enable some kinds of faith schools to “discriminate because of religion or belief in relation to admissions” if they are oversubscribed by giving priority to children of families which share the school’s religious background.

Arrangements vary wildly in the sector – while some do not operate religiously-based admissions, others are legally allowed to select up to 100 per cent of their pupils on the basis of religion.

The NSS said the Government’s refusal to collect comprehensive data on faith-based admissions arrangements is a problem because it means parents could lack information when making school choices.

For example, the Government’s ‘Get Information About Schools’ website, which provides data on all schools in England, only records whether a school is academically selective.

The NSS said this could be confusing to parents, as hundreds of schools that can select all their pupils based on faith list their admissions policy as “non-selective”.

Alastair Lichten, the head of education at the NSS, said: “If religious groups are given exemptions from equality laws to facilitate discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, then there needs to be transparency around that.

“If the DfE do not and will not record which schools discriminate on this basis, and to what extent, transparency and scrutiny is impossible.”

The Government is a strong supporter of faith schools, arguing they increase choice in the education system for parents and provide a positive ethos for children.

However, critics claim they exacerbate social divisions because children end up being segregated along religious lines.

Some people also question the fairness of faith schools. While all taxpayers fund the schools, because admissions arrangements are often at least partly based on religion, not all families have equal access to them.

The DfE defended its decision not to record the information, saying it would “constitute an additional burden for schools designated with a religious character”.

Source: i

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