What's the problem?
Faith schools are often justified in terms of choice. But three in ten families live in areas of high or extreme restriction on non-faith primary schools. Many families struggle to find a suitable local school, either having no option but a faith school or facing religiously discriminatory admissions. Choice based narratives also mischaracterises the challenges facing families and public education's role in a diverse society.
Though this issue is a problem across all four UK nations, the different ways in which data on schools and admissions are recorded mean that the methodology for the figures below can only be used for England.
In 2021 we launched the local authority scorecard featuring analysis of almost half a million postcodes, along with the latest admissions data, providing an unprecedented new level of detail. For the first time, policymakers and the public can see how faith schools restrict choice in every local authority.
- 30% have little or no choice but a faith-based primary school
In each of the three worst performing authorities by this measure, more than four in five families live in areas of high or extreme restriction.
- 10% have little or no choice but a faith-based secondary school
In each of the three worst performing authorities by this measure, more than six in ten families live in areas of high or extreme restriction.
- 20,792 pupils assigned faith schools against preferences
In the worst performing local authorities by this measure, over 1,000 pupils, or more than one in ten are affected.
2021 Local authority scorecard (Document, 1.1 Mb)
Download the local authority scorecard to explore the impact of faith schools restricting choice in your area, compare these to national figures and the overall performance of other local authorities.
Download and share a two-page briefing covering the problem and what can be done.
The figures for September 2020 showed:
- 20,340 assigned faith school despite non-faith preference (8,821 primary | 11,519 secondary).
Between September 2014 and 2020, 132,216 pupils were assigned faith schools despite a non-faith preference.
- 20,644 assigned faith school despite non-faith preference (8,333 primary | 12,311 secondary).
In 2018 we published a ground-breaking report which examined the actual primary school choices available across England, and within rural areas specifically. It also analysed 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.
Printed copies of the report are available on request.
What can be done?
The absolute best way to address these problems is transitioning to a fully inclusive, secular (i.e., community-ethos) school system which provides a suitable education for all pupils irrespective of religion or belief.
In the meantime, a range of other measures are consistent with a wide range of positions, from those who wish to move entirely away from faith-based schooling to those focussed on mitigating inequities:
- The Department for Education should monitor faith-based restrictions on school choice and suitability across England. New school plans should focus on addressing these.
- There should be a legal entitlement for all families to have reasonable access to a non-faith (community-ethos) school.
- Local authorities' duty to ensure adequate school provision should include monitoring faith-based restrictions on school choice and suitability, and prioritising addressing these in decisions about amalgamations or new provision.
- Faith-based discrimination in admissions should be phased out, starting in areas of significant restrictions on school choice.
- A moratorium should be introduced on the opening of new faith 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 ethos, particularly in areas where they are contributing to high faith-based restrictions on school choice or are significantly unrepresentative of their local communities.
Share with your MP
Please share the report with your MP along with this personalisable cover letter.
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?
Vikki, from PETERBOROUGH
"As a teacher I see a lot of schools, often in areas where there is no educational choice, adding the weight of respected adult support to a set of beliefs they expect very young children to follow. This should not be done using public money!"
Tim, from REDHILL
"It is appalling that in this day and age children continue to have religion forced upon them. A child should be allowed to make their own mind up when in possession of all the information and when they are able to fully assess their options. There are no non-faith schools where I live and consequently my children have to go to school in the neighbouring town."
Christopher, from BRISTOL
"I work in a village VC school and have seen the pressure to evangelise to children rising. It's even worse in VA schools. I wouldn't want my child to attend a faith school but might have no choice if I lived in a village. They claim to be for children of all faiths but it's clear that their main concern is with propagating the faith. It's time to end the segregation of pupils by their parent's faith and build a more cohesive society."