Reading Time: 3 minutes David Hawgood [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Reading Time: 3 minutes

I quite often report on faith schooling and its effect on the education system in the UK. We have a non-separation-of-church-and-state situation in a country that is far less religious than, say, the States.

Faith schools are often seen as better schools in terms of discipline and attainment, but as I have written before, this is a correlation fallacy. In order to gain admission to these schools, who can set themselves more rigorous selection and admissions criteria than non-denominational state schools, faith schools can demand all sorts of things of the parents of their prospective students. One of those things is requiring parents to attend church services for years before admission. This, of course, attracts high aspiration parents who are often able to move into better areas to aspire to change their lives in such a way that they can get their children into the “better school”. Of course, these parents (both genetically and environmentally) breed high aspiration children. We know that attainment’s largest variable is genetics, not schooling.

For this and many other reasons, faith schools are not the places people think they are – or, more accurately – they do not do what people think they do for the reasons people think.

The lengths people go to has recently been exposed in a report, as analysed here by Humanists UK (who campaign for the abolition of faith schools). I worked in Catholic education for almost 10 years and know this only too well. The stories I could tell you…

new report published today by the Sutton Trust has found that 30% of English parents know someone who has ‘attended church/religious services’ when they otherwise wouldn’t ‘so that their child(ren) could enter a church/religious school’. This was more than any other factor that was surveyed, including private tutoring, moving house, or using a relative’s address on the application form. Around 7% of parents admitted to engaging in such behaviour themselves. In response to the findings, Humanists UK has called for an end to faith-based admissions to state-funded schools.

Around 16 percent of places in English state schools are allocated on the basis of religion, when the schools are oversubscribed, and around a third of all state schools are religious. Around a quarter are Church of England, in spite of the fact that just two percent of young adults nowadays say they belong to the Church.

Previous Church research has found that its churches grow the most in places where there are religiously selective schools nearby.

Church schools are seen as desirable to attend due to their academic performance, but research has consistently concluded that any difference in academic performance between faith schools and other schools is totally attributable to the different intakes of each school. This was underlined by new research on the questionpublished yesterday.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘Too many parents are faced with the invidious choice between attending church when they are not religious or being unable to get their children into their local state school. This is simply not fair – the state school system should not incentivise parents to take part in dishonest behaviour of this nature.

‘This problem has been an open secret for too long. Instead of promoting religious, ethnic, and social segregation through faith school admissions, the Government must move to a system that encourages diversity in schools.’


For further contact or information, please contact Humanist UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 0207 324 3072.

Read the Sutton Trust research

Read about the new research on academic performance

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on faith schools

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...

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