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.

Social cohesion

The evidence in this section shows that faith schools undermine social cohesion by segregating pupils on religious, ethnic, racial and social grounds. By reducing contact between people from different social groups, faith schools foster exclusionary in-group dynamics that are detrimental to the wellbeing of a liberal, multicultural society. This evidence strongly undermines claims by supporters that faith schools facilitate social integration, promote a communal religious ethos and help to integrate minority faiths into the life of the nation.

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Faith-based schools and state funding: a partial argument

H. Judge (2001), Oxford Review of Education, 27(4): 463–474.

This article makes two principal and interrelated arguments against an expansion of state-funded faith schools in Britain. The first centres on the issue of academic performance and selection. The author notes that while denominational schools tend to secure good academic results, 'there is no agreement among sympathetic observers and researchers about the extent to which such achievement is related to the religious character of the schools in question'. The author adds that:

Any school granted the exceptional and remarkably attractive privileges of being able to choose its own teachers, to depart from bureaucratically designed procedures, to develop its own sense of mission and – this above all – in the last analysis to select its own pupils, whether by admission or through the ultimate sanction of exclusion, is almost certain to succeed. Such a truism does not of itself constitute sufficient justification for the public funding of religious schools.

The second argument against an expansion of state-funded faith schools centres on their impact for social cohesion. While the author defends the rights of parents to educate their children in the manner of their choosing, and to raise them according to their religious principles, he contends that faith schooling has negative social consequences, and that: 'any further extension of state aid to faith-based schools is likely to lead to an unwelcome fragmentation of society and a diversion of resources from schools committed to developing a common culture, while respecting a diversity of cultural identities'. The article claims that: 'There are powerful and potentially dangerous tensions between the (publicly funded) nurturing of distinct cultural identities within a heterogeneous society, and an orderly process of integration'.

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