Faith Schools

ICM Research has just posted on its website the results of a ‘faith schools survey’ undertaken by telephone between 25 and 27 June 2010 among a representative sample of 1,003 adult Britons aged 18 and over. They were randomly selected from the BT database of domestic telephone numbers.

A somewhat incomplete set of detailed computer tabulations, with breaks by standard demographics, can be found at:

The survey was commissioned by Barnes Hassid Productions, seemingly in connection with their production of Faith School Menace?, presented by the renowned atheist and evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins and broadcast on Channel 4 on 18 August. He is an arch-critic of faith schools and of government’s plans to expand them.

At the same time, the schools are popular with parents, albeit often for their supposedly better track-record on educational standards and discipline as much as for their religious advantages. There is a useful guide to the literature in Elizabeth Green, Mapping the Field: A Review of the Current Research Evidence on the Impact of Schools with a Christian Ethos, London: Theos, 2009.

Question 1 is not reported on ICM’s website, but it may possibly have been about the principle of state funding of faith schools, in which case the answers can be inferred from elsewhere in the tables as: 50% for, 45% against, 5% undecided.

Question 2 is likewise not recorded in detail but shows up as a variable in analysing Question 3. It asked: ‘Which, if any, of the following would you be prepared to do in order to obtain a school place for your child at your preferred local school?’

The options, with those replying yes, were: buy a property within the school’s catchment area (52%); rent a property within the school’s catchment area (40%); regularly attend the place of worship of a religion you do believe in (50%); regularly attend the place of worship of a religion you do not believe in (7%); none of these (26%).

Question 3 related to instances where parents had pretended to belong to a religion in order to get their child into a faith school. Three-fifths of respondents thought this was wrong, while 37% said that parents could not be blamed for doing whatever they could to get their child into their preferred school.

Apart from majorities of 18-24s (51%) and students (54%) not blaming parents, demographic differences were not notable, even between those with and without a religious affiliation. However, 57% of those who were willing to attend a place of worship they did not believe in also exonerated parents for playing the system.

Question 4 tested opinions on whether children should have a daily religious assembly and prayers as part of their education (a requirement introduced for all schools by the Education Act 1944). Here views were split straight down the middle, 45% agreeing and 44% disagreeing.

Most in favour were adults aged 65 and over (65%) and those with a religion (56%). Most opposed were the irreligious (66%) and those who objected to the state funding of faith schools (55%).

Question 5 concerned government plans to expand faith schools, including Muslim ones (which were specifically mentioned). 59% felt that schools should be for everyone, regardless of religion, and that the government should not fund faith schools of any kind.

This position was held particularly by men (64%), Scots (66%), the irreligious (73%), and those who had said that the state should not fund faith schools (82%) or who disagreed that there should be a daily religious assembly (68%).

A further 27% (rising to 44% among those who supported state-funded faith schools) accepted the logic that, if there are Anglican, Catholic and Jewish state-funded schools, there should be Muslim ones, also, but 10% were hostile to Muslim schools even though they conceded that faith schools were an important part of the educational system. This 10% varied little between demographic sub-groups.

Five years ago, when ICM posed the identical question for The Guardian, 64% believed that state schools should be for everyone and opposed state-funded faith schools, 25% agreed that there should be Muslim state schools and 8% were clear that the government should not be funding Muslim schools. So, on this specific measure, there have been only marginal shifts in public opinion over time.

All in all, the role of religion in education remains somewhat divisive. As can be seen from the BRIN database, a fair number of surveys has been conducted which touch on the issue of faith schools, but their outcomes are rather dependent upon the question-wording (and, to an extent, the client paying for the poll). Not unexpectedly, people can take a different position at the level of principle than when confronted by a scenario which might directly impact their own child(ren).

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