Faith Primary Schools: better schools or better pupils?

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Pupil background and ability, rather than teaching standards, account for higher attainment levels at faith primary schools finds new research by academics at LSE's Centre for Economic Performance.

Faith Primary Schools: better schools or better pupils? investigates whether faith schools really raise pupil attainments more than other schools, or whether they simply enrol pupils with characteristics conducive to faster educational progress. Authors Dr Steve Gibbons and Dr Olmo Silva also attempt to understand whether any beneficial impact of attending a faith school comes from its religious affiliation, or from specific governance and admission arrangements.

To answer these questions, the researchers considered pupils at the end of their primary schooling in England (age-11), making use of a large census that includes information on pupils' past and current achievements, school type and characteristics, place of residence (postcode) and schools attended.

The findings suggest that:

Faith primary schools could offer a very small advantage over secular schools in terms of age-11 test scores in maths and English. Attending the average faith school rather than the average secular school could move a pupil around one percentile further up the test-based pupil rankings.
Any benefit of attending a primary faith school is linked to the more autonomous admission and governance arrangements that characterised 'Voluntary Aided' schools during the period covered by our data. Pupils in religiously affiliated schools where admissions were under the control of the Local Education Authority ('Voluntary Controlled' schools) do not progress faster than pupils in Secular primary schools.
All of the apparent advantage of faith school education - particularly for Church of England schools - could be explained by unobserved differences between pupils who apply and are admitted to faith schools and those who do not: Pupils who do not attend a faith primary school up to age-11 but attend a faith secondary school thereafter perform just as well at age 11 as students who attended a faith primary school but then attend a secular secondary school.

By Londond School of Economics

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