Most Support Faith Schools Despite Questions over Admissions

A Church of England survey, released Tuesday, has revealed strong support for faith-based schools while bringing to light prevailing public uncertainty over the fairness of their admissions procedures.

According to the survey by Opinion Research Business, two-thirds of parents with children under the age of 18 and six in ten of the population overall support the option of sending their children to a state-run school with a particular religious, moral or philosophical ethos.

In the survey of more than 1,000 people across Britain, however, 45 percent agreed that "children from better off backgrounds are more likely to get in."

The Rev. Jan Ainsworth, the Church of England's Chief Education Officer, commented, "This finding indicates the challenge still facing the Church in communicating our national and diocesan guidance on admissions policies, which stress the importance of setting out simple, transparent criteria for allocating places in oversubscribed schools."

The findings of the survey follows research published by the Sutton Trust last week suggesting that faith schools accept fewer students from poorer backgrounds than other secondary schools.

"The Church of England has consistently supported the ban on interviews or the seeking of other information about the family during the admissions process," Ainsworth said. "Church attendance is the only measure our schools use when allocating places on the basis of faith, and churches are open to anyone, irrespective of background or income.

"However, governing bodies and the wider sector need to be crystal clear in the way that admissions policies are implemented and communicated."

The survey found that in spite of questions over admissions policies, parents were still largely positive about faith schools. Fifty-eight percent disagreed with the view that church schools contribute to creating divisions in society, 72 percent said that church schools gave places to children of all backgrounds, and 79 percent agreed that church schools provide a broad and balanced education.

The survey also found strong support for the Christian moral grounding that church schools offer their students, with 78 percent agreeing that they promote good behavior and positive attitudes, and 79 percent agreeing that church schools help young people develop a sense of right and wrong.

The findings were published on the same day that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, is scheduled to open St. Lawrence's Academy in Scunthorpe, and on the day before the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, is set to open the Archbishop Sentamu Academy in East Hull.

The Church of England assured that the two academies, both in urban areas, would admit students on the basis of their proximity to the schools.

Since 2006, the Church of England has required its new Voluntary Aided schools to reserve at least a quarter of places to pupils from the local area, irrespective of their faith background.

"We are not going to be forced to apologize for [faith schools'] popularity, or dilute their distinctive and inclusive values, by those who wish to covertly dismantle the foundations of church schools," Ainsworth noted.

"Parents are choosing church schools. Rather than criticizing popular schools, it is surely better to identify what makes them successful and try and replicate this in other schools," she added.

"We are actively working on sharing the lessons that popular church schools can offer to other schools – both Church of England schools and others in the state-run sector – through the Government's National Challenge program and other initiatives."