Faith schools are important but should not be allowed to choose pupils that share their religion, a community relations think-tank says.
The report from the Runnymede Trust says that faith schools “should remain a significant and important part of our education system”.
However, it says, they should be prevented from using religious affiliation as a basis for admitting pupils.
Revd Jan Ainsworth, the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, argued that dropping the faith criteria for selection would be “deeply unpopular with parents, and would do nothing to foster community cohesion”.
A recent poll found that most people either have positive opinions of faith schools or think they are no different from other state schools.
Of the 65 per cent who thought Church of England schools were different from other state schools, three quarters said they promote good behaviour and positive attitudes, help young people develop a sense of right and wrong, produce responsible members of society and have a caring approach to pupils.
Revd Ainsworth commented on the poll: “Some seem to believe that the Christian ethos, which is so valued by parents, is like a sort of magic dust that is sprinkled on church schools simply by association.
“But it is, in fact, achieved through the hard work of staff and governors in building a learning community that is underpinned with Christian values.
Earlier this year, the Centre for Policy Studies accused the Government of conducting a “witch hunt” against faith schools in order to impress the secular lobby.
It said: “A Government obsessed with phoney egalitarianism and control freakery is aligning itself with the strident secularist lobby to threaten the future of faith schools in Britain.
“Faith schools know that they are at the mercy of the current administration. They were in with Tony Blair – but they are out with Gordon Brown.”