Nearly three-quarters of the public are opposed to government plans for state schools to select all their pupils on the basis of religion, according to a new poll.
Even people who would describe themselves as belonging to a particular religion strongly oppose school selection by faith, the poll of 2,054 people found.
The Populus poll, commissioned by the British Humanist Association, reveals that 72 per cent of the public does not want to see any religious selection in schools. By contrast, only 15 per cent of the public was in favour of it.
This autumn, the government proposed lifting its requirement that new faith schools must offer half of their places to children of other religions or none. This would allow faith schools to select entirely on the basis of religion.
Last week, the director of the Catholic Education service told TES that he believed that a move back to schools of 100 per cent one faith would be "dreadful".
The new poll reveals that members of the public who identify with a particular religion are also opposed to religious selection in schools.
More than two-thirds – 69 per cent – of Anglicans said that they did not want to see a return to selection by faith. Almost the same proportion – 63 per cent – of Catholics felt the same way.
And 82 per cent of Muslims questioned said that they would prefer faith schools not to select by religion.
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the BHA, said: “The government may say that it is on the side of integration and parental choice, but having proposed that a whole new generation of schools become single-faith arbitrarily turns away local families at the gate. It’s no wonder the public are reacting strongly in favour of fair access to schools.”
He added that the government’s policy is supported only by a religious lobby, which does not share the views of the broader public. “We will continue to urge the government in the strongest possible terms to climb down from this disastrous policy,” he said.
The survey, which was carried out by , was also supported by the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education. Accord’s chair, Rabbi Jonathan Romain, said: “The poll highlights how religious discrimination is out of step with mainstream values in modern Britain.
“Schools are the state-funded institutions that should be doing most to prepare people for life in a diverse society, not segregating and discriminating against children on the grounds of faith.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education pointed out that faith-school pupils perform better than those not in faith schools.
“Parents want good schools for their children, and we know the vast majority of faith schools provide a high standard of faith schools,” he said.
“The reality is that the 50 per cent cap has not worked to combat segregation, and indeed also acts as a barrier to some faiths in opening new schools. We want to remove that barrier so that new places can be created, but at the same time consult on more effective ways to ensure that all new faith free schools are truly inclusive.”