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.
Opinion poll evidence challenges the claim that faith schools are popular with parents and communities, showing strong and consistent opposition to the idea of state-funded faith schools, from religious and non-religious citizens alike. There is significant variation between the phrasing of questions and between religious denominations. Opposition to religious selection or discrimination in faith schools is particularly strong.
What Muslims Want
A survey of British Muslims by ICM on behalf of Policy Exchange (December 2016).
This survey follows an earlier ICM survey of Muslim opinion in 2015 and provides a more extensive and updated exploration of Muslim views. As with the previous survey, the results show divided views on educational issues. The survey finds that most (53%) Muslims want to fully integrate with non-Muslims in all aspects of life, but also shows that 52% would prefer to send their child to a school with strong Muslim values. At the same time, just 26% of respondents claim that people should receive their faith education from schools.
Q.15. If you had the choice, which one of the following would you consider to be the ideal way for you to lead your life in Britain today?
I would like to fully integrate with non-Muslims in all aspects of life: 53%
I would like to integrate on most things, but there should be separation in some areas, such as Islamic schooling and laws: 37%
I would like to integrate on some things, but I would prefer to lead a separate Islamic life as far as possible: 6%
I would like to live in a fully separate Islamic area in Britain, subject to Sharia Law and government: 1%
Summary: Q.20. I would now like you to imagine that you are preparing to send your children to school. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
I would prefer to send my child to a school with strong Muslim values
Strongly agree: 16%
Tend to agree: 36%
Tend to disagree: 15%
Strongly disagree: 6%
Don't know: 4%
Q.21. If you had to choose, should children receive their faith education in their own homes or other people's houses, in schools or in mosques?
Don't know: 3%
Faith Schools Survey
Populus/Accord Coalition, October 2016
In October 2016 a poll conducted by Populus and the Accord Coalition found that a large majority of respondents (74%) did not believe that state-funded faith schools ought to be allowed to select or discriminate against prospective students on religious grounds in their admissions policy. Clear majorities rejecting religious selection were also found in every single religious category contained in the sample.
Table 2 Q.2. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? 'State funded schools, including state funded faith schools, should not be allowed to select or discriminate against prospective pupils on religious grounds in their admissions policy.'
Strongly agree: 47%
Slightly agree: 26%
Slightly disagree: 9%
Strongly disagree: 6%
Don't know: 13%
By religion (NET agree / disagree)
Church of England, Anglican, Episcopal: 69% / 17%
Roman Catholic: 63% / 27%
Methodist: 62% / 21%
Christian (other): 69% / 23%
Muslim: 82% / 5%
Hindu 82% / 0%
Jewish: 58% / 20%
Sikh: 74% / 26%
Buddhist: 79% / 9%
None: 76% / 11%
Fear & HOPE 2016
R. Ford and N. Lowles (2016), Hope Not Hate.
This report draws on survey data from Populus and examines a range of attitudes and identity issues in England. On the subject of faith schools, the report found that a majority of people from all ethnic groups favoured close monitoring of faith schools in the context of promoting British values.
support close monitoring of faith schools, including Muslim faith schools
YouGov (November 2015).
This survey from YouGov finds that a clear majority of respondents (64%) agreed that school children ought to participate in activities with children from different faiths. This is a problematic finding for supporters of faith schools, given the extent to which those schools promote homogeneity of faith in their educational cohorts.
For the following question, by "school child", we mean children aged 16 or under in full-time education and by "group activities", we mean activities such as sport, theatre, outdoor learning experiences etc.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? "Every school child should participate in group activities with children from different faith/ethnic backgrounds to their own, either in school and/ or in their local community."
Strongly agree: 26%
Tend to agree: 38%
Neither agree nor disagree: 21%
Tend to disagree: 7%
Strongly disagree: 4%
Don't know: 4%
Young People’s Voices
Integrated Education Fund (September 2015).
In a two year project the Integrated Education Fund involved more than 2,000 people aged 16-24 through opinion polls, focus groups, political hustings and round-table discussions. These examined young people's feelings about education and social cohesion in Northern Ireland.
Independent polling company LucidTalk was commissioned by the IEF to carry out an attitudinal survey of people in Northern Ireland aged between 16 and 24, during the spring of 2014.
How would you rate the following statement: 'An education system where children of all faiths and none go to the same schools would be an important step in combating sectarianism in Northern Ireland'?
Strongly Agree 45.4%
No Opinion 8.6%
Strongly Disagree 0.3%
Would you have liked your school experience to have included more pupils from different traditions and backgrounds?
No Opinion 21.1%
The same report looked at the summer 2014 survey from the Northern Ireland Social and Political Archive's Access, Research, Knowledge project, undertaken by a sample of 1,034 16 year olds in NI. They found that:
The majority (59%) would choose a mixed religion school, more than twice the number (26%) who would choose a school with pupils of a single religious background.
YouGov / Ideate Research Ltd
A poll conducted by YouGov and Ideate Research in September 2015 found wide variations in people's attitudes towards faith schools depending on the religion of the school. Although a majority of respondents (76%) believed that Christian faith schools should be permitted (with just 16% saying they should not be allowed), the figure for Jewish schools fell to 60% (with 28% saying they should not be allowed) and for Muslim schools the figure fell to 46% (with 44% saying that they should not be allowed).
Do you think faith schools associated with the following religion should or should not be allowed in the UK? (Please select the option that best applies)
I think they should be allowed in the UK and receive state funding: 44%
I think they should be allowed in the UK but not receive state funding: 32%
I think they should not be allowed in the UK: 16%
I think they should be allowed in the UK and receive state funding: 12%
I think they should be allowed in the UK but not receive state funding: 34%
I think they should not be allowed in the UK: 44%
I think they should be allowed in the UK and receive state funding: 16%
I think they should be allowed in the UK but not receive state funding: 44%
I think they should not be allowed in the UK: 28%
C4 / Juniper survey
ICM (April/May 2015).
A poll of Muslims for Channel 4 News found divided opinions on issues of integration and schooling. Half of respondents said that they wanted to be fully integrated with non-Muslims in all aspects of life, while 45% also said that they wanted to send their child to a school with 'strong Muslim values'.
Table 31 Q.10. If you had the choice, which one of the following would you consider to be the ideal way for you to lead your life in Britain today?
I would like to fully integrate with non-Muslims in all aspects of life: 49%
I would like to integrate on most things, but there should be separation in some areas, such as Islamic schooling and laws: 29%
I would like to integrate on some things, but I would prefer to lead a separate Islamic life as far as possible: 17%
I would like to live in a fully separate Islamic area in Britain, subject to Sharia Law and government: 1%
Table 32 Q.11. I would now like you to imagine that you are preparing to send your children to school. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements:
I would prefer to send my child to a school with strong Muslim values:
Strongly agree: 21%
Tend to agree: 24%
Tend to disagree: 14%
Strongly disagree: 13%
Don't know: 2%
Schools’, OnePoll for ITV
A poll conducted for ITV by OnePoll found high levels of resistance from parents (of around two thirds) to the idea of practising a religion they didn't believe in or having their child baptised in order to gain entry to a better school.
2. Would you be willing to practise a religion you don't believe in to get your child into a good school?
Yes and I have done this: 12.6%
Yes and I would do this if I had to: 23.7%
4. Would you/have you had your child baptised just so they are eligible to go to a better school?
Yes and I have done this: 11.1%
Yes and I would do this if I had to: 23%
ComRes (February 2015)
According to a poll of Muslims taken by ComRes for the BBC, most respondents would not want to send their child to a state Muslim school.
Table 25 Q.3. Do you agree or disagree with these statements about life in Britain ...?
I would like my children to go to a Muslim state school if I had the choice
Don't Know: 3%
Religion and attitudes towards faith schools
B. Clements (28 September 2014), British Religion in Numbers.
This post on the website British Religion in Numbers (BRIN) examines a range of social survey data, drawn from British Social Attitudes (BSA), that have been conducted to ascertain the extent to which faith schools have public support, and to see whether the perceptions of the general public match the claims that have been made by those campaigning on either side of the faith schools debate.
BSA figures from 1989 found that support for faith schools was low. In response to a question on whether they would prefer to send their child to a religious school of their own faith or a mixed religious school, a single religious school was the preferred option for 32.7% of Catholics, 13.7% of Anglicans, 15.7% of 'other Christian' denominations and 10.2% of people with 'no religion' (these figures were higher for respondents who frequently attended a place of worship: here the figures rose to 44.7% of Catholics, 15.9% of Anglicans and 22.3% of other Christian denominations). In contrast, mixed religious schools were the preferred option for 48.9% of Catholics, 67.4% of Anglicans, 66% of other Christians and 69.9% of people with no religion (the respective figures of those expressing 'no preference' were 17.1%, 17.7%, 17.4% and 18.7%).
Comparing questions from 2003 and 2007 British Social Attitudes questions on faith schools shows a decline in support (figures show the proportion of respondents who 'agree' or 'strongly agree' with the statement).
Government should fund non-Christian faith schools (2003/2007)
Anglican 38.3% 32.9%
Catholic 56.1% 49%
Other Christian 43.1% 35.2%
Other Religion 66.8% 65.9%
No Religion 41.3% 35.8%
Government should fund single religion schools
Anglican 28.2% 24.8%
Catholic 51.1% 38.7%
Other Christian 32.4% 21.8%
Other Religion 46.1% 36.3%
No Religion 16% 13.8%
Single religion schools have a better quality of education (2003 / 2007)
Anglican 23.5% 21.6%
Catholic 40.5% 35.7%
Other Christian 21.2% 22.4%
Other Religion 28.3% 30.8%
No Religion 12.5% 12.6%
Single religion schools give children a better sense of right and wrong (2003/2007)
Anglican 29.8% 28.9%
Catholic 46.6% 39%
Other Christian 32.0% 25.9%
Other Religion 34.1% 29.9%
No Religion 13.4% 11.9%
[I] support schools that are linked to a particular religious denomination (2007 only)
Other Christian 31.2%
Other Religion 34.5%
No Religion 21.2%
These figures show that Catholics and members of non-Christian religions are more supportive of government funding for faith schools (again, these figures are higher for more frequent attenders and for respondents expressing a higher degree of religiosity). As Clements writes: 'The general pattern is for those who express a greater degree of religiousness to be more supportive of government funding of faith schools and to have more positive appraisals of what they offer pupils compared to other schools'. The lowest levels of support come from people with 'no religion'. The data also show that fewer than half of respondents in all religious groups agree that faith schools provide a better quality of education than non-faith schools, and nor do they support the view that faith schools provide a better sense of right and wrong.
BSA data from 2008, for the question:
Some schools are for children of a particular religion. Which of the statements on this card comes closest to your views about these schools[?]
No religious group should have its own schools
Other Christian 37.9%
Other Religion 44.4%
No Religion 48.3%
Some religious groups but not others should have their own schools
Other Christian 14.1%
Other Religion 5.7%
No Religion 12.8%
Any religious group should be able to have its own schools
Other Christian 44.1%
Other Religion 48.8%
No Religion 36.8%