Reporting by Edmond Wax
The Church of England’s own research has shown that many parents are only attending church to get their children into oversubscribed, religiously selective schools.
The study, commissioned by the CofE as part of its Church Growth Research Programme, states that “the most direct impact on attendance may be felt in areas where a popular CofE school is over-subscribed".
The report, written by Professor David Voas from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, added: “Some churchgoing is clearly motivated by a desire to qualify for school admission.”
The academics, who were trying to identify what causes church congregations to grow, found that “middle class suburbs with church schools…offer great opportunities [for growth]”.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chair of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education said: “Schools should be for the benefit of the children attending, not recruiting centres for places of worship.
“The suggested use of state-funded faith schools as a strategy for church growth highlights the need to reform the way they operate, so that they serve their local community, not vested interests.”
This new study comes after research by the Pastoral Research Centre in January seemed to indicate that increasing numbers of parents are now having their children baptised in order to gain entry to oversubscribed Catholic schools.
Pavan Dhaliwal, head of public affairs at the British Humanist Association, said: “This evidence clearly demonstrates that religious selection in school admissions is leading parents to attend church when they otherwise wouldn’t.
“It is not the place of the state to support religious groups by allowing fully state-funded schools to have admissions criteria that inflate religious attendance figures.
“Instead, all state-funded schools should be open to all pupils, regardless of religion or belief.”
However, a spokesperson for the CofE said: “This is the usual bunkum from the Fair Admissions Campaign and its associates.
“By basing their claims on the selective quotations of two or three sentences from a 93 page report, the only thing they have demonstrated is the paucity of their argument."
The research highlighted, he added, associative factors rather than causative ones and made no distinction between church schools that do use church-based admissions criteria and those that do not. “Which significantly affects the conclusions that can be drawn,” the spokesperson added.
“The Church of England will continue to provide excellent schools serving their local communities in all their diversity and rejoice if that encourages the 60 per cent of the population who name themselves as Christians to express that by attending their local church."