Faith schools admission policies are discriminating against non-religious families by restricting their access to 240,000 school places, campaigners have claimed.
A new report by Humanists UK say that many secondary faith schools not only prioritise children of their own faith but also favour pupils of any religion over those from none.
Its new report, Non-Religious Need Not Apply, says that 60 per cent of Catholic state secondary schools discriminate against the non-religious specifically – significantly more than any other kind of school.
A quarter of Church of England state secondary schools are also said to prioritise children from different faiths over children from non-religious families. And a fifth of Muslim schools and one in six Jewish schools are said to discriminate against the non-religious specifically.
The findings come from an analysis of the admissions policies of 637 secondary state faith schools.
However the Catholic Education Service has said that there are almost 68,000 pupils of no faith who attend their local catholic schools.
Faith schools are able to select up to 100 per cent of their pupils on the basis of their religion.
However, Humanists UK is warning that school admissions policies that also prioritise children of different faiths over those from none are discriminating against the non-religious.
The campaigners are now calling for the Office of the Schools Adjudicator to decide whether such admissions policies adhere to the School Admissions Code.
Humanists UK says that although targeted discrimination of the non-religious is not explicitly prohibited in law, there is a question about whether or not it meets the legal requirement, in the School Admissions Code, that all school admissions policies be ‘fair’.
'A mistreated majority'
The report says: “It is no less unjustified for a Church school to discriminate against non-religious families vis-à-vis the religious, than it would be for a Church school to discriminate against Muslims, say, vis-à-vis all other religious families.
“In both cases the discrimination would divide children who ought to be mixing, and in both cases questions would rightly be asked about what prejudices might have led to an effort to exclude these groups from schools.”
The report claims that non-religious families face additional restrictions in their access to 240,000 state secondary places in England (7.4 per cent of all state secondary places) than they would if targeted discrimination against the non-religious did not take place.
Humanists UK chief executive Andrew Copson said: “The non-religious are a mistreated majority in England, singled out for discrimination in a significant proportion of the state schools they are largely responsible for funding.
"It is simply inconceivable that this kind of discrimination would be tolerated were it being Christians singled out, or Muslims, or Jews, so we see no reason why non-religious people should be treated any differently.
‘Schools’ admissions policies should be fair to families, treating them and their children equally regardless of their beliefs.”
Voluntary aided schools can select all their pupils on the grounds of faith, and new free schools can select up to 50 per cent of pupils on religious grounds.
A spokesman for the Catholic Education Service said: "While all Catholic schools have faith based admissions, these only take effect when a school is oversubscribed. Therefore, what Humanists UK claim happens in 60 per cent of Catholic secondaries, in reality, happens in a very small number of schools.
"In the handful of cases where this does happen, it is as a direct result of the Catholic Church being barred from opening new schools to cater for increasing demand.”
Education secretary Damian Hinds had been expected to scrap the 50 per cent faith cap on free schools earlier this year.
However, he announced that it was staying in place and that the Department for Education would also be providing funding for new voluntary aided schools – which can select all their pupils on the basis of faith – to open.