Black pupils less likely to be admitted to UK Church schools, study finds

16 August 2018 14:00
Primary school children working in the classroom

New research from Lancaster University uncovers ‘systematic differences’ between the admission of white pupils and pupils from ethnic minorities in Church schools across the UK.

Black families in the UK are 68% more likely to choose a Church school than white families, yet are significantly less likely to be admitted to a Church school than a similar white family living nearby, the study finds.

The report, commissioned by the Department for Education, examines how parents select secondary schools for their children. Based on parental school preferences data for year 6 pupils between 2013-14, experts were able to assess the demographic backgrounds of families and their school choices for the first time.

Results show that in England, 93% of white British families obtain their most-preferred school, compared to only 73% of black families and 75% of South Asian families. And admissions to Catholic or Church of England school vary depending on ethnic background – a black child is less than half as likely to be admitted than a white child who also applies for that place, living at least as far from the school. Similar results were found for children from disadvantaged backgrounds (who qualify for a ‘pupil premium’) when compared to other children living nearby. This finding was consistent across London and other UK regions.

Dr Matthew Weldon from the Economics Department at Lancaster University Management School led the research. He said: “The reason for this disparity in chances of admission is not clear, and there are probably several contributing factors, including different choice strategies when faced with the uncertainty of admission to popular schools. The results do not imply that Church schools are cream-skimming pupils.

"However, the composition of Church schools is, on average, more affluent and more “white” than non-Church schools. Before now it has not been possible to say whether this is due only to parents’ choices, or is also due to Church schools’ admissions rules. Using newly-available data, these results establish that admissions constraints do play a role in contributing to sorting. For minority ethnic groups such as black families, who are more likely to choose Church schools than white families, obstacles to admission may have a noticeable effect on parents’ satisfaction with the whole admissions process.

In London, Manchester and Birmingham, the study found families of minority ethnicities appear to weigh academic performance more highly than white families in choosing a school. For example, black and South Asian parents on average travelled more than twice as far as white parents for a similar improvement in the school’s average test scores (measured by the percentage of pupils achieving 5+ A*-C at GCSE).

Dr Matthew Weldon continues, “The Department for Education was interested to find out whether school choice behaviour in London is qualitatively different from elsewhere in the country. However, we found that the demographic mix of the Capital explains almost all of the differences in observed choices. In particular, London is much more ethnically diverse than any other part of England. We found that the ethnic variation in both choice behaviour and access to schools stands out across the country and is something that requires further consideration. The difference between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds compared to others is more modest - 86% of disadvantaged pupils obtain their first choice, compared to 89% of pupils from other households.”

The full report, ‘Secondary School Choice and Selection’ can be downloaded from the Department for Education website:


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