Research Busts Faith School Academic Excellence Myth

Research Busts Faith School Academic Excellence Myth November 5, 2019

I have previously written several articles laying out the problems with making the claim (particularly in the UK context) that faith schools are better for one reason or another:

Are Faith Schools Better? An Issue of Correlation vs Causation

Taxpayers Effectively Completely Fund Faith Schools

‘Faith’ schools three times more socially selective than others, new research finds (again)

And so on. Now, more research has been published to defend my previously established views. As The British Humanist Association report:

New research published today by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and the University of Bristol has revealed ‘dramatic’ changes in the performance of secondary faith schools in England when the background of pupils is fully considered. The ‘Fairer Schools Index’ finds religious schools’ ‘scores reduce substantially once the educationally advantaged nature of their pupils is considered’.

In response to the findings, Humanists UK has called for the UK Government to change its official performance measures to similarly take into account the background of pupils.

The Government currently measures the value secondary schools add to pupil attainment using something called ‘Progress 8’. This looks at how well pupils perform in their GCSEs (taken at the end of secondary school) and adjusts this to take into account their key stage 2 tests (at the end of primary).

However, the academics have now produced a measure called ‘Adjusted Progress 8’, which as well as taking into account key stage 2 results, also ‘accounts for pupil age, gender, ethnicity, English as an additional language (EAL), special educational needs (SEN), free school meal status (FSM), and residential deprivation.’ Doing so shows a dramatic decline in the performance of faith schools, particularly Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh faith schools.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented: ‘There is a persistent myth amongst some sections of society that faith schools are academically stronger than other schools, but research has consistently demonstrated that if pupil background is considered, such differences in performance go away.

‘This latest research shows how even the Government’s main measure of pupil progress perpetuates this myth. The Government should can adjust this measure to better capture the value schools add to pupil performance.’


For more information contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or 020 7324 3078.

Read the Northern Powerhouse Project research.

For more information on our work on faith schools.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.


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