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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YouGov / Daybreak, Survey Results

September 2010

A YouGov/Daybreak survey in September 2010 found that school performance was the factor highest rated by parents when considering schools for their children. The religion of the school was rated as an important factor by fewer than one in ten people.

Which, if any, of the following are/were important to you when choosing which school to send your child/children to? (Please select up to three)

Performance of the school: 66%

How easy it was to get to: 34%

The area the school was in: 33%

Where my child wanted to go: 24%

Facilities: 23%

Class sizes: 23%

Curriculum: 22%

Religion of the school: 9%

Where my child(s) friends went: 9%

Extracurricular activities on offer: 7%

That it is a same/mix-sex school: 4%

Other: 5%

Don't know: 4%

Link to source

Faith Schools Survey for Channel 4

ICM (August 2010).

In August 2010 an ICM survey for Channel 4 found that a majority of respondents (60%) felt that it was wrong for parents to pretend to belong to a religion in order to get their child into a faith school (37% disagreed) and a similar figure (59%) did not believe that the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind. These results were broadly replicated when breaking the responses down according to religious affiliation: a majority of Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Jewish respondents did not think that parents should mislead about their religion in order to get their child into a faith school. A majority of Christians, Hindus and Sikhs did not think there should be state funding for faith schools of any kind.

Q.3. Which one of the following statements do you most agree with?

You cannot blame parents for doing whatever they can to get their child in their preferred school: 37%

It is wrong for parents to pretend they belong to a religion in order to get their child into a faith school: 60%

Don't know: 3%

[By religion]

You cannot blame parents for doing whatever they can to get their child in their preferred school:

Christian: 37%

Muslim: 36%

Hindu: 72%

Sikh: 19%

Jewish: 23%

Other: 49%

It is wrong for parents to pretend they belong to a religion in order to get their child into a faith school:

Christian: 60%

Muslim: 64%

Hindu: 28%

Sikh: 81%

Jewish: 77%

Other: 48%

Q.5. The government is expanding the number of state funded faith schools, including Muslim schools. Which one of the following statements do you most agree with?

Faith schools are an important part of our education system and if there are Anglican, Catholic and Jewish state-funded schools there should also be Muslim ones: 27%

Faith schools are an important part of our education system but the government should not be funding Muslim schools: 10%

Schools should be for everyone regardless of religion and the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind: 59%

Don't know: 4%

[By religion]

Faith schools are an important part of our education system and if there are Anglican, Catholic and Jewish state-funded schools there should also be Muslim ones.

Christian: 29%

Muslim: 64%

Hindu: 25%

Sikh: 28%

Jewish: 58%

Other: 32%

Faith schools are an important part of our education system, but the government should not be funding Muslim schools.

Christian: 12%

Muslim: 0%

Hindu: 18%

Sikh: 0%

Jewish: 0%

Other: 8%

Schools should be for everyone regardless of religion and the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind.

Christian: 54%

Muslim: 36%

Hindu: 57%

Sikh: 72%

Jewish: 0%

Other: 60%

Don't know

Christian: 4%

Muslim: 0%

Hindu:

Sikh: 0%

Jewish: 42%

Other: 0%

Link to source

Understanding public attitudes in Britain towards faith schools

B. Clements (2010), British Educational Research Journal, 36(6): 953–973.

This paper provides a detailed analysis of different aspects of public attitudes towards faith schools in Britain. It uses data from the British Social Attitudes Survey 2007 to analyse the relationships between attitudes towards faith schools and religious characteristics. The paper finds that Catholics and those who attend religious services regularly, those with higher levels of religious feeling and those with socially conservative beliefs are more supportive of faith schools. Importantly, there was found to be little impact in relation to measures of socio-economic status, except for past or current attendance at a private or fee-paying school of a household member. These findings support critics of faith schools who contend that they promote divisive, in-group dynamics.

Link to journal

YouGov / Accord Coalition, Survey Results

June 2009

A survey conducted by YouGov and the Accord Coalition in June 2009 found that most respondents agreed with the view that state-funded faith schools were bad for community cohesion, that they should not be permitted to operate discriminatory recruitment policies, and that they should teach a wide-ranging syllabus.

State funded schools that select students by their religion undermine community cohesion.

Strongly agree: 25%

Agree: 35%

Disagree: 12%

Strongly disagree: 7%

All state funded schools should operate recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on grounds of religion or belief.

Strongly agree: 37%

Agree: 35%

Disagree: 7%

Strongly disagree: 3%

All state funded schools should teach an objective and balanced syllabus for education about a wide range of religious and non-religious beliefs.

Strongly agree: 33%

Agree: 41%

Disagree: 6%

Strongly disagree: 3%

Link to source

Church schools “divide society”

D. MacLeod (14 October 2008), The Guardian.

A poll conducted by the Church of England found high levels of support for faith schools, but also found that a significant proportion (45%) of respondents who agreed that church schools were different from schools run by a local authority believed that children from better-off backgrounds were more likely to get places.

Link to article

YouGov / Sunday Times Survey Results

April 2008

A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times, conducted in April 2008 in the wake of criticism of faith schools by the then Education Secretary, Ed Balls, found that half of respondents were in favour of stronger government measures to deal with restrictive admissions processes.

Ed Balls the schools minister has criticised faith schools over unfair admissions procedures. Which of these statements comes closer to your views?

The government is right to get tough on schools that erect hidden barriers that discourage poorer families from applying: 50%

Labour should stop undermining often excellent faith schools and leave heads to run their schools as they see fit: 38%

Link to source

YouGov Survey Results

July 2007

A further YouGov survey in July 2007 found that more than half of respondents were 'not in favour' of faith schools.

Thinking generally, would you say that you are in favour or not in favour of faith schools?

In favour 31%

Not in favour 52%

Don't know 17%

Link to source

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.

YouGov Survey Results

February 2007

A poll by YouGov in February 2007 found that more than half of respondents did not approve of the expansion of faith schools.

Do you approve or disapprove of the growth in the number of faith schools in this country?

Approve 10%

Disapprove 52%

Neither 28%

Link to source

Non-believers

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