Faith schools: the evidence

Over a third of schools in Britain are faith schools, yet their place within public education systems remains deeply contested.

Proponents of faith schools claim that they improve parental choice, achieve superior educational outcomes, and are better at promoting moral values. The evidence from the research strongly contests these claims.

Such research is often piecemeal and difficult to access, making it hard to gain a comprehensive view of the debate. This research bank is intended as a valuable resource for policymakers, politicians, academics and anyone else interested in the ongoing debate around faith schools in Britain.

Each entry provides an at-a-glance overview of the key evidence and central arguments made in a different study. The research bank is arranged chronologically within a number of key sections: social cohesion; performance; school choice; values; and public opinion.

Together, the evidence provides a compelling and comprehensive case against state-funded faith schools.

Choice and admissions

One of the main arguments made in favour of faith schools is that they increase diversity and choice by enabling parents to have their children educated according to their own faith tradition. This section points to evidence of the opposite effect. Faith schools restrict school choice for parents who do not share the religion of their local school. Some parents are left with little option but a faith school, while others face restricted access to local schools through the use of unfair admissions procedures. Some critics have also seriously questioned the consumerist framing of school issues around choice.

Briefing>>> | Download the research bank as a PDF >>> | Share on Twitter>>>

Ballots in School Admissions

The Sutton Trust (May 2007).

This report by the Sutton Trust examines attitudes about school admissions processes. It finds that, when presented with the scenario of an oversubscribed faith school, more people (36%) believed that a random ballot was the fairest way of allocating places than a system based on determining which families were most committed to the Christian faith (preferred by just 20%). The report also found that selecting children by religion or faith was most often described as unfair. This view was held by 40% of respondents, with just 8% claiming that this method was fair. The report added that: 'allocation by proximity to the school or by faith' had been shown by other research 'to be highly socially selective'.

A PDF copy of this report is available to download.

Click here to access.


J. Crace (5 December 2006), The Guardian.

A Headspace survey of primary and secondary head teachers, carried out by Education Guardian and EdComs (and administered by ICM) found that many head teachers had serious concerns about the effects of faith schools. Almost half (47%) felt there should be either fewer or no faith schools, a third (32%) felt there should be no change and only 9% believed that the number of faith schools should be increased. Only 25% believed that faith schools created more religious tolerance in society, 18% felt they made no difference and 45% thought that they promoted less tolerance.

The article notes that:

Many headteachers have misgivings about the practicalities of admissions policies. Faith schools often achieve better results and, while the effects of discipline and ethos on pupil performance cannot be ignored, these schools rarely reflect the social composition of the communities in which they are located ... faith schools seem to get a disproportionately high percentage of their intake from the educated middle-classes in comparison to non-denominational community schools.

Link to article