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 polls

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.

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Opinium Research Results

June 2014

A poll conducted by Opinium in June 2014 found that a majority of respondents (58%) were opposed to faith schools being funded by the state (with 23% of respondents holding the view that faith schools should be banned entirely). Of those who did not support state funding for faith schools, a clear majority (70%) said that they did not think that the taxpayer should be funding religion, and 60% said that faith schools promoted division and segregation.

Q.1. Which, if any, of the following statements would you say best describes your view of 'faith schools'

I have no objection to faith schools existing but they should not be funded by the state (i.e. private schools may be faith schools but not state schools): 35%

Faith schools should be banned entirely: 23%

I have no objection to faith schools existing and being funded by the state: 30%

Don't know: 12%

Q.2. You said that you objected to faith schools being funded by the state or existing entirely. Why is this?

The taxpayer should not be funding religion: 70%

They promote division and segregation: 60%

They are contrary to the promotion of a multicultural society: 41%

They promote radicalisation/extremism around faith: 41%

Other reason: 5%

Don't know: 1%

Link to source

YouGov survey for the Jewish Chronicle

April 2014

According to a YouGov poll conducted for the Jewish Chronicle in April 2014, two thirds of respondents (67%) felt that state-funded faith schools should not be permitted to teach creationism, and the overwhelming majority (82%) felt that state-funded faith schools should not be allowed to refrain from any form of sex education in lessons (only 9% said that they should be permitted to do so).

Some faith schools wish to adapt their curriculum so that pupils are taught in accordance with the school's religious outlook. Thinking about those faith schools within the state system and funded through taxation, do you think they should have the freedom to do the following or treat this issue like most other state secondary schools?

Teach "creationism" – that the world was created in broadly its present form by God – as a legitimate scientific theory, on a par with the theory of evolution.

Yes, they should have the freedom to do this: 18%

No, they should treat this issue like most other state schools: 67%

Not sure: 15%

Refrain from any form of sex education in school lessons.

Yes, they should have the freedom to do this: 9%

No, they should treat this issue like most other state schools: 82%

Not sure: 8%

Link to source

YouGov for Westminster Faith Debates (Lancaster University)

September 2013

Almost identical results were found in a survey conducted by YouGov for Westminster Faith Debates in September 2013. It was found that most people (45% to 32%) did not approve of state funding for faith schools, and that most people (59% to 24%) were unlikely to send their child to a faith school. The survey also found that 'grounding pupils in a faith tradition' and 'transmission of belief about God' were the lowest rated reasons in people's decision about where to send their child, with just 5% and 3% respectively (the top reason being 'academic standards', with 77%).

Q.1. State-supported 'faith schools' make up around a third of schools in Britain. Most are church schools (e.g. Church of England, Roman Catholic) and the rest (around 1%) are non-Christian (e.g. Jewish, Muslim, Hindu). Do you think the government should or should not provide funding for faith schools?

The Government should provide funding for these: 32%

The Government should not provide funding for these: 45%

Don't know: 23%

Q.3. Imagining now that you had a child and were choosing a school for them … How likely or unlikely would you be to send your child to a faith school?

Very likely: 9%

Fairly likely: 15%

Fairly unlikely: 21%

Very unlikely: 38%

Q.4. If you were thinking about sending your child to a school in your local area, which two or three, if any, would influence your choice? (Please tick up to three)

Academic standards: 77%

Location of the school: 58%

Discipline records in the school: 41%

Ethical values: 23%

Prestige of the school: 19%

Grounding of pupils in a faith tradition: 5%

Transmission of belief about God: 3%

Something else: 5%

Don't know: 9%

Link to source

YouGov / University of Lancaster Survey Results

June 2013

In June 2013 a poll conducted by YouGov and Lancaster University found that a clear majority of people (59%) would be unlikely to send their child to a faith school. Most people (by a margin of 45% to 32%) also felt that faith schools should not be funded by the state, although a small majority (by 42% to 38%) were supportive of state funding for Church of England schools.

Imagining now that you had a child and were choosing a school for them… How likely or unlikely would you be to send your child to a faith school?

Very likely: 9%

Fairly likely: 15%

Fairly unlikely: 21%

Very unlikely 38%

State-supported 'faith schools' make up around a third of schools in Britain. Most are church schools (e.g. Church of England, Roman Catholic) and the rest (around 1%) are non-Christian (e.g. Jewish, Muslim, Hindu). Do you [think] the Government should or should not provide funding for the following faith schools?

The government should provide funding for these: 32%

The government should not provide funding for these: 45%

Don't know: 23%

Catholic faith schools

The government should provide funding for these: 36%

The government should not provide funding for these: 43%

Don't know: 21%

Church of England faith schools

The government should provide funding for these: 42%

The government should not provide funding for these: 38%

Don't know: 20%

Link to source

YouGov / University of Lancaster Survey Results

June 2013

In June 2013 a survey of Catholic adults by YouGov/University of Lancaster found that 57% would be 'likely' to send their child to a faith school (just 29% saying that it was 'unlikely'). The promotion of religious beliefs and practices came low down in the list of factors that respondents were asked to select as influencing their choice of school. Just 19% rated 'Grounding of pupils in a faith tradition' as an important factor. Just 8% rated 'Transmission of belief about God'. Top of the list was 'Academic standards' (with 75%) and 'Location of the school' (with 46%).

If you were thinking about if you were planning on sending your child to a school in your local area, which two or three, if any, would influence your choice? (Please tick up to three)

Academic standards: 75%,

Location of the school: 46%

Discipline records in the school: 38%

Ethical values: 30%

Grounding of pupils in a faith tradition: 19%

Prestige of the school: 17%

Transmission of belief about God: 8%

Something else: 4%

Don't know: 8%

Imagining now that you had a child and were choosing a school for them… How likely or unlikely would you be to send your child to a faith school?

Very likely: 31%

Fairly likely: 26%

Fairly unlikely: 15%

Very unlikely: 14%

Link to source

YouGov / Prospect Survey Results

January 2013

A survey by YouGov and Prospect conducted in January 2013 found that most people (49% overall) expressed support for the idea of making all state schools secular and prohibiting them from having any special links to religious organisations (38% opposed).

Here are some proposals regarding state schools. In each case, do you support or oppose the proposal?

Make all state schools secular, and stop them having special links with the Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religion

Total support (49%)

Strongly support: 24%

Tend to support: 25%

Total oppose (38%)

Tend to oppose: 23%

Strongly oppose: 15%

Don't know: 14%

Link to source

Faith Schools

Accord Coalition / ComRes (November 2012).

A survey conducted by ComRes for the Accord Coalition in November 2012 found that the large majority of respondents (73%) did not believe that state-funded schools (including faith schools) should be permitted to discriminate against prospective pupils in their admissions policies (just 19% thought that they should be allowed to do this).

Q.1. 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: 50%

Slightly agree: 23%

Slightly disagree: 10%

Strongly disagree: 9%

Don't know: 9%

Link to source

Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (UK)

Religious and Social Attitudes of UK Christians in 2011 (February 2012).

In 2012 an Ipsos MORI poll of UK adults identifying as 'Christian' in the 2011 census, conducted with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, found that respondents showed more support for state-funded Christian faith schools than for those of another religion: 54% strongly supported or tended to support state-funded schools for their denomination, 53% supported them for any Christian denomination and 44% supported them for non-Christian faiths.

To what extent do you support or oppose the following in the UK?

Q.30. State-funded schools for your denomination

Strongly support: 20%

Tend to support: 34%

Neither support nor oppose: 26%

Tend to oppose: 10%

Strongly oppose: 6%

Don't know: 2%

Q.31. State-funded schools for any Christian denomination

Strongly support: 17%

Tend to support: 36%

Neither support nor oppose: 27%

Tend to oppose: 9%

Strongly oppose: 6%

Don't know: 3%

Q.32. State-funded schools for any religion, whether Christian or non-Christian

Strongly support: 13%

Tend to support: 31%

Neither support nor oppose: 27%

Tend to oppose: 15%

Strongly oppose: 8%

Don't know: 4%

Link to source

Children and Young People’s Views of Education Policy

Office of the Children's Commissioner (March 2011).

This report examines the views of young people on their time at school and finds large opposition to the use of religion as a criterion for school admissions. Just 20% of children and young people feel that religion should be used in this way, while 64% feel that it should not (with 16% unsure). The study notes that participants 'tended to hold strong views against selection on religious grounds', with focus group statements calling the use of religion in admissions criteria 'racist' and a case of 'discrimination'. The report concludes that: 'Selection on the basis of religion appears to be a concern to many young people. There may therefore be value in exploring further why young people feel this is the case and ensuring that their views on this issue are conveyed as part of the review of the School Admissions Code'.

A PDF copy of this report is available to download.

Click here to access.

YouGov / NUT Survey Results

December 2010

A poll by YouGov and the NUT in December 2010 found that just 16% of respondents considered a faith-based organisation to be an 'appropriate group' to run a school, far behind other groups, such as local councils (52%), teachers (42%) and non-profit charities (30%).

Suppose there was to be a new school built in your area that your child or children could attend. Which, if any, of these groups would be an appropriate group to run a school? Please tick all that apply.

Local councils: 52%

A group of teachers: 42%

Non-profit charity: 30%

A group of parents: 25%

Faith based group: 16%

Private company: 15%

None of the above: 6%

Other: 1%

Link to source