Like many European nations without a separation of state and church, the UK has so-called faith schools, i.e. schools that teach a national curriculum but are otherwise affiliated with a particular religion and often include acts of religious worship and the teaching of a particular religion in their daily classroom activities (prior to 1990, they used to be called “church schools”). In many such schools, the religious organisation also has a say in who may attend the schools, thus effectively introducing a religion based selection for often highly competitive schools.
The Guardian has now done a study comparing faith schools against nondenominational schools in England. There are 19,534 state schools in England, out of which 10,603 schools have no religious affiliation, while the rest are mostly Church of England or Roman Catholic, the table from the Guardian’s study:
- Church of England: 4,386 schools
- Roman Catholic: 1,699 schools
- Church of England/Methodist: 32 schools
- Jewish: 27 schools
- Methodist: 26 schools
- Christian: 12 schools
- Muslim: 6 schools
- Roman Catholic/Church of England: 4 schools
- Church of England/Roman Catholic: 3 schools
- Methodist/Church of England: 3 schools
- Sikh: 3 schools
From the 4,386 Church of England (CoE) schools, 53% are voluntary-controlled and thus receive all of their funding from the state, while 47% are voluntary-aided and receive some funding (usually 10%) from the CoE (source). It is at these voluntary-aided schools, where the clergy can have a say in who may attend, despite the vast majority of the funding still coming from state. All Roman Catholic schools count as voluntary-aided.
The CoE claims that despite the pupil selection on the basis of religion, they are still socially inclusive:
Are Church of England schools socially divisive?
No, most church schools simply reflect the areas in which they are located. All CofE Voluntary Controlled schools (around 2,500) have 100 per cent local admissions, and fully reflect the community within which they are set. CofE Voluntary Aided schools (around 2,100) usually admit children of Church of England and other Christian families first, but the vast majority also admit local children including children from families of other faith traditions.
This myth about schools merely reflecting the demographics of their area has long been accepted as an excuse for why faith-based schools seem to have lower percentages of economically disadvantaged pupils than secular schools. However, the Guardian’s study shows otherwise:
In St John’s Church of England primary in Croydon, south London, just 7% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, compared with 29% across the postcode and 24% across the local authority.
Meanwhile, at St James’s Catholic primary school in Richmond, south-west London, only 1% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, compared with 10% across the postcode and local authority.
So we have schools largely funded by the government, where the religious organisation affiliated with the school is allowed to discriminate in matter of student admission along the lines of religion, which at the same time also excludes socio-economically disadvantaged students. This has to stop (though as Guardian editor Andrew Brown points out, the very elitist character of faith schools will probably make those schools even more attractive for middle class parents).