Christian schools in England are being accused of escalating social and ethnic segregation compared with state schools with no religious ethos.
New research from the anti-faith schools lobby group, Fair Admissions Campaign has found that comprehensive secondaries with no religious character admit 11% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected given their areas.
Comparatively, the study suggests, Roman Catholic secondaries admit 24% fewer; with Church of England secondaries admitting 10% less; Jewish secondaries 61% fewer; and Muslim secondaries 25% fewer. But the claims by the Fair Admissions Campaign are contradicted by figures released by both the Catholic Education Service and the Church of England's Education Division.
The CES says that on average pupils at Catholic schools in England come disproportionately from the most deprived areas.
The data collected as part of its annual Digest of 2013 Census Data for Schools and Colleges in England shows that 18.4% of pupils in Catholic primary schools are from some of the most deprived areas, compared to only 13.8% nationally. Catholic secondary schools follow a similar trend with the study claiming 17.3% of pupils are coming from some of the most socially deprived areas with a national figure of 12.2%.
The Census has also found that Catholic schools take more pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds with 34.5% of pupils in Catholic primary schools from ethnic minority backgrounds and 30.2% of Catholic secondary school pupils. Talking about the figures Paul Barber, Director of the Catholic Education Service said: "We have always known that Catholic schools serve ethnically diverse communities and the figures from the Census data show that this continues to be the case.
"The makeup of Catholic schools reflects the growing diversity of our communities and these figures demonstrate the vital role that Catholic schools play in working towards a common good for the whole society and carrying out the Church's mission to the poor."
The Church of England has also released figures contradicting the Fair Admissions Campaign. It says 15% of its secondary pupils are eligible for Free School Meals which is in line with the national average for non CofE schools which is also 15%.
The Church's Chief Education Officer Revd Jan Ainsworth said: "200 years ago, the Church of England provided the first national system of schools specifically designed to provide an education for the poor. Today, we remain proud of the way in which our schools enable children from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed."
Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE told Premier's News Hour why he's not convinced by the figures coming from the churches. The research also reveals that Church of England comprehensives that don't select on faith admit 4% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected, while those whose admissions criteria allow full selection admit 31% fewer.
Bishop of Derby Rt Revd Alistair Redfern tells Premier he'll need to study the figures but the issue may need addressing: Speaking last month the Archbishop of Canterbury Most Revd Justin Welby said more and more Church schools are moving away from selecting pupils on grounds of religion.
His comments were supported by the Church's lead bishop on Education Rt Revd John Pritchard who said accusations that the majority of church schools have unfair selection processes were widely exaggerated.