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.

Values and morality

Many widely held moral principles are promoted by both faith and non-faith schools, the latter without framing these through an exclusively religious ethos. However, the evidence in this section shows that the promotion of religious values often runs contrary to ideals of equality in areas such as sexual orientation and reproductive rights. While supporters contend that educating children within a religious tradition fosters moral learning, critics argue that this reflects a desire to advance the interests of particular religious institutions.

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The Way Ahead: Church of England Schools in the New Millennium

Church of England, GS 1406, Church House Publishing, London (2001).

This report outlines the Church of England's vision for its schools and makes a number of recommendations for ways in which the Church can deepen and expand its school provision. The views contained in the report can be seen to support the claims of those who see faith schools as engaging in practices amounting to indoctrination. It states, for instance, that the aim of Church schools should be to: 'Nourish those of the faith; Encourage those of other faiths; Challenge those who have no faith'. A section called 'The Church's need to reach the young' explains that: 'The Church has a major problem in attracting young people to its services'. This is described as a source of 'much concern' that 'bears directly on the future of the Church'. The report goes on to lament the limited provision of the Church at the level of secondary schools, noting that: 'This means that we are losing contact with most of the Church primary school children just at the time of life when they need answers to their questions and support in their faith'.

The report further states that: 'The justification for Church schools lies in offering children and young people an opportunity to experience the meaning of the Christian faith'. It claims that Church schools should not be 'agents of proselytism', but nonetheless calls on Church schools to 'offer the children an experience of the Christian faith, both through the everyday life of the school and through inclusive forms of worship'. The report adds that: 'The policy of inclusiveness extends also to children of no faith where, without seeking to convert these children to the faith, the school offers the practice of faith, worship and a school life founded on Christian values, all of which give the children an opportunity to make an informed choice that they might otherwise not experience'.

The report goes on to lament a lack of Christian teachers needed to promote Christian values, stating that: 'in an increasingly secular society the seedbed of young Christians from whom Christian teachers can be drawn needs to be nourished. Unless the Church can act successfully to find the teachers needed … nothing will be achieved'.

A PDF copy of this report is available to download.

Click here to access.