Faith Schools No Better Than Secular Schools Says New Report

The Church is the biggest education provider in England with an estimated one million children currently attending a faith school.Reuters

Faith schools are barely any better than secular schools at getting top results for children, according to new research.

Pupils do appear to do better at Britain's faith schools than secular state schools, says a new report from the Education Policy Institutute.

However, they also educate a lower proportion of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and with special educational needs.

When controls allow for this, the difference in attainment between faith and non-faith schools is largely eliminated, the report says. It is still there, but "is so small as to be educationally insignificant".

The report refers to the Government's green paper, Schools that work for everyone, which proposes removing the ban on new grammar schools as well as the restriction on new faith schools which presently caps faith based admissions at 50 per cent.

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The report says: "The green paper proposals to encourage more faith schools to open are based on the premise that the majority of these are high-performing, have good Ofsted ratings and support increased social mobility."

The raw data does indeed show that pupils, including disadvantaged pupils, tend to do better in faith schools, both in terms of overall attainment and in the progress they make, in both primary and secondary schools.

Pupils in Church of England, Catholic and other faith schools do better in tests and get higher GCSE grades.

"However, this does not take into account the characteristics of pupils in faith schools, including levels of deprivation, ethnicity and special educational needs," the report says. "All of these factors need to be taken into account in order to make a fair assessment of the impact and effectiveness of faith schools. We need to understand if higher performance in many faith schools is due to greater school effectiveness or whether it is a function of pupil characteristics."

According to the report, grammar schools are the most socially selective and all grammar schools are socially exclusive. 

Some secondary faith schools are also socially selective, the report says, with the odds of a pupil being eligible for free school meals being around two thirds of those for all children in their local area.

"In the top 100 socially selective secondary schools, 30 of these are faith schools and 17 of these are non-academically selective faith schools – which raises real concerns about their admission arrangements," the report says.

When controls for deprivation, prior attainment and ethnicity were factored into the statistics, the researchers found that the difference between faith and non-faith schools in terms of attainment was "relatively small".

"Given that the average faith school admits fewer pupils from poor backgrounds than the average non faith school, there is a risk that such small gains would come at the price of increased social segregation, with a risk of lower social mobility," the report says. "If the objective of government policy is to increase social mobility, this policy intervention is unlikely to be effective."

David Laws, chairman of the institute, says in the foreword: "It is known that some faith schools admit smaller numbers of childrenfrom disadvantaged backgrounds than found in their own local areas. Does this mean that if faith schools secure better results than other schools, it is only because they are more socially selective?"itted.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chairman of the Accord Coalition which campaigns for state schools to be open to all, said: "Opening new faith schools that can religiously select pupils will undermine community cohesion, harm the life chances of children from deprived backgrounds and not raise overall standards. We urge the Government to reconsider its plan to get rid of the current rule that prevents faith Free Schools not selecting more than half of their pupils on religious grounds, and instead move towards a non-discriminatory model, where state-funded schools no longer discriminate against children and families by faith."

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