The report examines the actual primary school choices available across England, and within rural areas specifically. It also analyses school admission data and other school preference research to quantify how these effects impact school choice.
- Almost three in ten families across England live in areas where most or all of the closest primary schools are faith schools. There is significant regional variation and the problem is more prevalent in rural areas. However, even in urban areas around one in four families live in areas with high or extreme restrictions.
- Every year between 45,000 – 60,000 families apply for primary schools in areas with extreme restrictions on non-faith school choice, with a further 111,000 – 136,000 in areas of high restriction.
- In 43.4% of rural areas restrictions on non-faith school choice are categorised as "high" or "extreme". In fact, 53% of rural primary schools are faith-based.
- 20.6% (7,727) of those who missed out on their first choice of a non-faith primary school in September 2018 were assigned a faith school. This includes 1,398 people who had made all their preferences (typically five) for a non-faith school.
- When parents appeal against the allocation of a faith school, there is no guarantee they will succeed – effectively forcing children into faith schools against their parents' wishes.
What can be done?
The report makes a number of policy recommendations.
- The Department for Education should monitor faith-based restrictions on school choice and suitability across England. New school plans should focus on addressing these.
- Local authorities school provision should monitor faith-based restrictions on school choice and suitability and prioritise inclusive school provision when making decisions about amalgamations.
- Faith-based discrimination in admissions should be phased out particularly in areas of significant restrictions on school choice.
- A moratorium should be introduced on the opening of new faith-based schools. This could be phased in starting in the areas with the highest faith-based restrictions on school choice and suitability.
- It should be made easier for faith schools to lose or downgrade their religious designation, particularly in areas where they are contributing to high faith-based restrictions on school choice or are significantly unrepresentative of their local communities.
- There should be a legal entitlement for all families to have reasonable access to a non-faith school.
Printed copies of the report are available on request.
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Below are three randomly selected parents' perspectives on the how faith schools restrict their choices. Click the link here or below to browse a wider selection.
Sarah, from TUNBRIDGE WELLS
"My own (atheist) children were taught creationist beliefs in their village primary school (there was no non-faith school we could choose), and that other faiths were essentially primitive. At secondary level, in our nearest town, there are three non-selective schools, two of which are faith schools. These faith schools don't accept children from families with no faith unless the families lie about their lack of faith. Our 'choice' was restricted to one school, therefore, unless our children passed the selective tests for the non-faith grammar schools. The faith schools' admissions criteria therefore massively distort the secondary system here."
Jenny, from SOUTHAMPTON
"My son recently started reception at a faith school. Not because I'm religious, but because I had no choice. This is our local school; most other local schools are also faith schools. As a result, I will be forced to navigate challenging conversations with a four-year-old whether I feel he is prepared for them or not. Religious families will already be speaking to their children about religion at home, and non-religious families will not appreciate having to contradict what their children are taught at school."
Clare, from EXETER
"I believe that it is harmful for children to be segregated by their parents' beliefs. As a person without a religion, who had not been to a religious school, I was surprised at and disturbed by the level of religious indoctrination in our local state C of E primary school when my children were young, and at the amount of time that was devoted to religious themes."
Is a faith school your only option?
Are you locked out of your local school based on religion? Have you been assigned a faith school against your wishes? Are faith schools your only option?