Public oppose faith school admissions cheating

Survey reveals that majority of the public think it is ‘unacceptable’ for families to attend Church to get their child into a religiously affiliated school

A new YouGov survey has found that a majority of the public think it is ‘unacceptable’ for families to attend Church to get their child into a religiously affiliated school. The practice was considered ‘unacceptable’ by 56% of people, compared to 22% who viewed it as ‘acceptable’, meaning it is disapproved by a ratio of over 5:2.

The findings present a fresh blow to state-funded faith schools religiously selecting their pupils. Research over recent years suggests religiously selective admission arrangements are being exploited on a massive scale. Though practices vary, awarding places to children from families with a record of Church attendance is the most common way religiously selective schools in England and Wales select pupils.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Reverend Stephen Terry, said ‘People are right to oppose school places being obtained through what is in effect cheating. However, public pressure should not be directed at families, but at authorities that permit admission arrangements which are known to incentivise parents in this way.’

“Faith groups associated with religiously selective schools may give themselves a boost and feel that they succeed in engaging with families interested in gaining a school place, but it is entirely bogus. Encouraging people to be insincere about their religious affiliation or commitment, in order to gain an unfair advantage over others who are acting honestly, undermines the reputations of these faith groups and risks diminishing their authority as moral guides and guardians.”

Yet again, religiously selective schools are having a potentially negative impact. They should be bringing out the best in people, not leading them into temptation. We call on the government and faith schools’ own authorities to set religiously selective schools on a path which phases out discriminatory admission policies.”

Findings from recent years suggest religiously selective admission arrangements are being widely abused. A 2013 survey commissioned by the education charity The Sutton Trust found 6% of all parents with a child at a state-funded school admitted to attending church services, when they did not previously, so their child could go to a faith school. For parents from socio-economic group A this figure rose to 10%.

A 2015 survey commissioned by ITV revealed that of parents of primary school aged children:

  • 6% admitted to having pretended to practice a faith in which they did not believe to get their child into a desirable faith school
  • 7% said they would if they had to do so
  • 7% said they had baptised their child purely to gain a school place
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The figures demonstrate that a substantial proportion of families of pupils who attend state-funded faith schools will have feigned religious belief or commitment with a view to obtaining a school place.

Religious selection presents schools and faith groups with a series of short-term conflicts of interest which groups like Accord believe increases the need for leadership and pressure to ensure schools change. Such selection is consistently shown to advantage children from affluent families. By skewing the social and ability profile of pupils admitted, the selection boosts the results and so apparent standing of the schools concerned. In turn, this makes the schools more popular, which continues to incentivise families to obtain the necessary religious affiliation or record of worship to gain access to them.

Awareness of how popular faith schools can be used to boost local religious engagement has grown. A 2014 Church of England commissioned study into growing churches found that having a popular Church school nearby that rewards children from families who attend Church can be a key way to develop parishes. It found ‘The results for church growth are interesting. Here the Church school has a keyrole … The most direct impact on attendance may be felt in areas where a popular C of E school is over-subscribed. Some churchgoing is clearly motivated by a desire to qualify for school admission’ (p23-24). The study went on to acknowledge ‘Middle class suburbs with church schools … offer great opportunities [for growth]’ (p26).

YouGov questioned 3,526 adults living in the UK on March 9th 2018. Data was weighted to be demographically representative of all British adults aged 18 and over. YouGov is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. The survey results can be found here. Respondents were asked ‘Do you think it is acceptable or unacceptable for parents to attend Church specifically to get their child into an affiliated school?’. 22% recorded their answer as ‘acceptable’, 56% ‘unacceptable’ and 22% ‘don’t know’. 

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