Faith schools’ admission policy a ‘labyrinth’ for parents

06 July 2018

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A STUDY of the admission policies of faith schools in Leicester has found that they are complex and difficult to navigate, with the result that parents from poorer and no faith backgrounds are least well served by schools in the city.

In the study of policies of faith schools, all state funded Church of England and Roman Catholic schools were included, as well as Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh schools. The research was carried out by Dr Mairi Levitt and Professor Linda Woodhead from Lancaster University.

Leicester was chosen because of its ethnic and faith diversity: the 2011 census showed the city to be one third Christian, 23 per cent no religion, 19 per cent Muslim, and 15 per cent Hindu.

The city has 13 state-funded faith schools for primary-age children, serving 16 per cent of the city’s children; and five faith schools for secondary-age pupils, serving 17 per cent of the population.

Professor Woodhead said: “The study reveals a labyrinthine system of selection criteria, and a mixed picture regarding the educational outcomes of faith schools relative to other state schools.”

Examples of complexity include RC schools that give priority to those who have submitted a “mass verification form to show they have attended mass weekly”, or “temple stamps” for the Hindu school; but many have multiple criteria which must be met for a place to be awarded.

Researchers said that the issue was not confined to Leicester, and the Office of the Schools Adjudicator had criticised the complexity of some faith schools criteria, which made it difficult for parents to understand how they could satisfy it and apply for a place for their child.

“Although some of the newest faith schools — Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu, as well as Catholic — have good results, they are, in practice, closed to all but the most religiously strict and practising members of their own faiths,” Professor Woodhead said. “Even when they are obliged by law to take a proportion of children who do not share the faith, their selection criteria are so complex and demanding that it is unlikely that any would apply.”

Dr Mairi Levitt said: “Although some faith schools, particularly Christian ones, are open to those of other faiths, they tend to be academically less successful. Conversely, schools with higher academic success are more likely to be oversubscribed and to employ stricter selection criteria.”

The study concludes that the families who benefit most from the current situation are those who are able to navigate the increasingly complex system, and those who are actively religious according to stated selection criteria or, in the case of non-faith schools, live in the right area. The poorest served are families from poorer backgrounds where the community school is under-achieving, and who would not be able to seek a place in a faith school.

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