A report that is likely to reignite the faith school debate was today released by the Fair Admissions Campaign. The study investigates all mainstream state-funded secondary schools in England on the basis how religiously selective their admissions policies are, and how representative they are of their local areas in terms of students eligible for free school meals and pupils who speak English as an additional language.

As its key finding, the study establishes a correlation between religious selection and socio-economic segregation in state-funded secondary schools. Non-religious schools were found to typically admit 11% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected in their areas, while religious comprehensives that do not select by religion typically admitted 3% more. But schools whose admissions criteria allow religious selection for all places typically were found to admit 27% fewer eligible pupils than expected in their areas.

The research estimates that 16% of students are subject to religious selection. The practice varies between faiths: in Church of England schools, 49.7% of places are subject to religious selection, while the number for Roman Catholic, Jewish and Muslim schools is over 90%. However, if Church of England schools without full control of their admissions policies are excluded, its figure rises to 68%.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury recently commented that Church of England schools are moving away from religious selection. We are yet to see if this is true, but at the same time believe it cannot come true soon enough,” Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, said.

The research concludes that religiously selective schools are vastly overrepresented among the worst offenders on free school meal eligibility and English as an additional language. On free meal eligibility, they make up 46 of the worst 100 schools, and 50 of the worst 100 for English as an additional language.

Besides public discussion, what do the campaigners hope will be the outcome of today’s study? Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain commented: “The data poses some very awkward questions for the state funded faith school sector, especially as many people of faith are appalled that schools that should focus on the poor have become so elitist.”

Andrew Copson added: “The scale of the problem demands not voluntary effort by religious groups but legislation – government should act now to make these divisive effects impossible by removing the possibility of religious selection in state-funded schools.”

The Fair Admissions Campaign’s previous report on the socio-economically imbalanced nature of faith schools’ admission policies published earlier this year provoked an angry response from supporters of faith schools and some religious authorities. The Christian think tank Theos quickly published a contradicting report, which was later criticised as partial and misleading by the BHA, among others.

You can find further information of today’s research on the Fair Admissions Campaign’s website.