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.
- 20,644 assigned faith school despite non-faith preference (8,333 primary | 12,311 secondary).
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 non-faith preference.
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.
John, from PLYMOUTH
"Both our children have had to go to faith schools because they were the only local schools available. We are an atheist family, and this was not at all what we would have chosen. In country areas the local faith school is effectively compulsory. Politicians bend over backwards not to offend faith groups, but by far the largest 'faith' group, atheists, are ignored."
Darren, from LIVERPOOL
"Parents attend church just to get them into their most convenient school, not because of their devotion to the religious orientation. We have a school five meters away from our house, but our son can't go there because we refuse to attend the local church. This should not be happening in today's society. Children should be able to make their own choice when they are able to make that choice."
Christopher, from GUILDFORD
"We were unable to go to our nearest secondary school, because it was a Catholic school. Our children's infant and primary schools were both C of E, which caused them a great deal of confusion - their teachers telling one thing, when they knew we didn't believe."
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?