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.
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.
Panel Report, Oldham Independent Review
D. Ritchie (11 December 2001).
This independent review into the civil disturbances that took place in Oldham in 2001 identified the segregated nature of the town's school system as a key contributor to underlying ethnic divisions. It noted the 'divisive' nature of faith secondary schooling in the town, pointing out that three of its faith schools (Blue Coat, Crompton House and Our Lady's) admitted no Muslims, and called for 15-20% of school places to be open to pupils of non-Christian backgrounds (claiming that: 'it is possible to admit a significant number of adherents of other faiths without fundamentally undermining a school's ethos'). The report further noted that: 'The problem of segregation would only get worse with the increase of single faith schools'.
A PDF copy of this report is available to download.
Community Cohesion: A Report of the Independent Review Team
T. Cantle (2001), The Cantle Report, Home Office, London.
An investigation by the Independent Review Team headed by Ted Cantle (charged with examining the issue of community cohesion after civil disturbances struck a number of northern towns in 2001) identified a variety of problems. A key factor was faith schools. The report found a lack of ethnic diversity in many faith schools, noting that this was not simply due to the ethnic composition of the local area but could be due to the admissions policies of the school. As the author wrote: 'One C of E school for instance in the midst of an Asian community had a policy whereby pupils had to produce a letter from their local vicar to prove they and their parents were regular church goers. Consequently, Muslim parents rarely bothered to apply to send their children to this school and were effectively excluded from it'.
The report went on to observe how the lack of diversity within a school contributed to a lack of diversity in wider social networks, claiming that the promotion of cultural knowledge and understanding outside the school 'would be easier where the intake had a better mix of cultures and faiths, as this would also allow friendship and parental networks to naturally develop more easily. We are concerned that some existing faith schools appear to be operating discriminatory policies where religious affiliations protect cultural and ethnic divisions'.
The report went on to call for schools to try and limit their intake from one culture or ethnicity, and to offer at least 25% of places to reflect other cultures or ethnicities within the local area.
A PDF copy of this report is available to download.
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'.