Black families are significantly less likely to be admitted to a church school than similar white families living nearby, research published by the DfE has revealed.
The study into how parents choose secondary schools, carried out by the Department of Economics at Lancaster University, finds a similar pattern for children who are eligible for the pupil premium.
Author Matthew Weldon writes that the reasons for these “systematic differences” are not clear.
The report, published today, says it “finds evidence that children of minority ethnicities, and disadvantaged (pupil premium) children, are less likely to gain a place at oversubscribed own admissions authority schools, and church schools in particular.
“For minority ethnic groups such as black families, who are much more likely to choose church schools than white families, the selection effect may have a noticeable effect on parents’ satisfaction with the admissions process.”
The research found that black families are 68 per cent more likely to choose a church school than white families, yet they are “significantly less likely” to gain a place than a similar white family living nearby.
The report adds: “If a white child and a black child apply for a single remaining seat at a church school in London, the black child is less than half as likely to be admitted. We find similar results for other ethnic groups in London and other cities.
“Likewise, a pupil premium-eligible child is significantly less likely to be admitted into a church school she applies to than a similar non-pupil premium child living nearby.”
While the report is unable to say what is driving the differences, it says the results “do not imply that church schools are cream-skimming pupils”.
It raises the possibility that non-white or disadvantaged families under-estimate how much competition there is for places in church schools, and so do not place as much emphasis on fulfilling religious or other requirements before applying.
The report adds: “The results provide strong evidence that differences in the composition of church schools and other types of school cannot be explained entirely by parents’ preferences and are, at least in part, due to admissions constraints.”
Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s chief education officer, said the report highlights "some possible challenges" that it would look at in more detail.
He added: “Church of England schools are there for everyone and we take our commitment to promoting diversity and opportunities for children from disadvantaged backgrounds very seriously.
“Reports, such as this, from responsible bodies based on authoritative research, will always be welcome, even where they may indicate a need for further work to be done.
"We will consider this study in more detail and seek to understand the complexities that it demonstrates."