New Faith School Study

02 July 2018

A new study discovers what the expansion of the faith school sector really means for parental choice.

Using multi-faith Leicester as a case study, new research by Linda Woodhead and Mairi Levitt finds that recent government support for new faith schools has created a messy and unfair situation in which the families that do best are those that are well-off, strictly religious, and equipped to navigate the increasingly complex system.

The article by Levitt and Woodhead ‘Choosing a Faith School in Leicester’ is published by the British Journal of Religious Education (June 2018, pp.1-12) and can also be dowloaded under Resources on this page.

To carry out the research, they put themselves in the position of parents choosing a primary or secondary school for their child in the multi-faith city of Leicester, and studied the publicly-accessible information and choices available to them. The fieldwork was carried out between February and July 2016.

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.

Although many of the newest faith schools (Muslim, Sikh and Hindu as well as Catholic) are in principle obliged to take a proportion of children who do not share the faith, in practice several impose such Byzantine selection criteria that none but the most strictly religious would be likely to apply.

Although some faith schools, particularly Christian ones, are open to those of other faiths, they tend to be the academically less-successful ones. Conversely, schools with higher academic success are more likely to be oversubscribed and to employ stricter selection criteria.

The study concludes that the families that 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 – able to locate in the right area.

In relation to faith schools, simplifying or eliminating selection criteria, and being truly open to a quota of pupils from all faiths and none, would alleviate the problem.