‘Increasing the number of faith schools risks more social segregation’

2nd December 2016 at 12:17
Free school
The government’s plans to expand faith schools will be counter-productive, research published this morning suggests

Most of the debate around the government’s Green Paper has focused on the expansion of grammar schools. Two months ago, the Education Policy Institute published its analysis of how increasing academic selection might affect social mobility.

But the Green Paper also includes a number of proposals that the government hopes will increase the number of good school places. Among these is a proposal to remove the 50 per cent cap on faith-based admissions for oversubscribed faith free schools, with ministers arguing that this measure has not in practice achieved its intended aim of promoting inclusion and cohesion.

Instead, it is argued, this has prevented some faith groups, particularly from the Catholic faith, from opening new schools. By removing the cap, the government hopes that faith groups will be encouraged to open new free schools and increase the supply of good school places, with the assumption being that such schools will provide a good quality of education.

Today we have published a new report, “Faith Schools, pupil performance and social selection , in which we examine the characteristics of pupils who attend existing faith schools, as well as the extent to which faith schools are socially selective, and how well pupils who attend faith schools do at school, especially when compared with similar pupils from non-faith schools.

'Fewer disadvantaged pupils'

We have found that at both primary and secondary level, faith schools tend to admit fewer pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, fewer pupils with special educational needs and more pupils with high prior attainment, compared with the national average. In terms of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, faith schools admitted fewer than the local average proportions of such pupils in the local catchment area, at both primary and secondary level. 

Pupils in a faith school are significantly less likely to be eligible for free school meals, compared with all children in their local area. Around one in 10 faith secondary schools are at least as socially selective as the average grammar school.

However, some faith schools include more than the expected proportion of disadvantaged pupils. Around one in 10 faith secondary schools has a proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals that is much higher than the average for the local area.

In the top 100 socially selective secondary schools, 29 are faith schools, of which 16 are non-academically selective faith schools – raising real concerns about their admission arrangements.

In terms of attainment, we found that faith schools do achieve higher results than non-faith schools at both key stage 2 and KS4. However, much of this difference is explained by the characteristics of the pupils who attend faith schools. The difference in attainment between faith and non-faith schools at KS2 is largely eliminated after controlling for prior attainment and pupil characteristics. At KS4, pupils in faith schools achieved the equivalent of about one grade higher in one subject than pupils in non-faith schools (or one-seventh of a grade in each of eight GCSEs).

These findings show that, while encouraging more faith schools to open may help the government to meet its requirements to provide sufficient school places, the proposed policy is unlikely to deliver places that are of a significantly higher quality than those offered by non-faith schools, and it risks creating more social segregation.

Jon Andrews is director of education data and statistics at the Education Policy Institute. He tweets as @mrjpandrews

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