Church trails in support for poor

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
Figures reveal C of E primaries admit fewer children from deprived families than secular and other faith schools. Graeme Paton reports

Church of England primary schools are admitting up to a third fewer children from poor backgrounds than their secular neighbours, official figures reveal.

The number of pupils in Anglican primary schools on free meals - one of the Government's key indicators of deprivation - is around 11 per cent compared to a national average of 17 per cent.

In comparison, Roman Catholic schools are more in line with other schools and state-funded Muslim schools admit twice as many pupils from deprived families.

The findings follow last week's GCSE results which showed that 46 of the 100 top-rated comprehensives were faith schools - and come as the Government continues to support the expansion of faith-based education.

Critics claim that the relatively low number of pupils from deprived families at some faith schools fuels concerns that they are socially selective. The voluntary-aided status of most faith schools gives governors power to set their own admissions criteria, often meaning families have to show proof of church attendance when a school is full.

Alan Carter, secretary of the Campaign for State Education, said: "There is clear evidence that having separate admissions arrangements for faith schools gives them power to exercise covert selection over their pupils."

But the Church of England denied that schools use their freedom to pick the best pupils and said the good results reflected their religious ethos - along with the fact that more than two-thirds draw children from rural or commuter-belt areas that tend to be more affluent. A spokesman said: "Our schools are not in any way socially selective, they are extremely diverse and serve the immediate population, but it must be noted that many are in rural areas or serve commuter-belt communities."

There are around 4,700 state-funded Anglican schools in England and 2,100 Catholic primaries and secondaries.

Statistics from the C of E show that 11.2 per cent of key stage 2 pupils at Anglican primaries are eligible for free meals, compared to a national average of 17.3 per cent. At key stage 3 it is 12.1 per cent, compared to 15.6 per cent, and at key stage 4 10.3 per cent compared to 13.5 per cent.

A spokesman said the proportion of free meals was much closer to the national average at secondary level and that the gap would close further with the creation of a series of C of E-sponsored academies in deprived inner-city communities.

Figures from the Catholic Education Service reveal 15.9 per cent of its primaries and 15.1 per cent of secondary pupils receive free meals, almost the same as the national averages. Peter Walsh, the CES policy and briefings manager, said: "We have been consistent that Catholic schools are not, and should not be, socially selective."

Figures for the 33 state Jewish schools show just 4 per cent of primary and 6.2 per cent of secondary pupils are eligible for free meals. But the five state-funded Muslim schools buck the trend, with more than 30 per cent of all pupils being eligible, twice the national average.

Idris Mears, director of the Association of Muslim Schools, said: "They are all serving deprived inner-city communities."

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

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