Most people either have positive opinions of faith schools or think they are no different from other state schools, a new poll shows.
Six in ten people believe that parents should be allowed to choose a state school for their child based on their own religious, moral or philosophical considerations, according to the survey.
However, 45 per cent of those who said church schools were different from other state schools felt that places were more likely to go to pupils from more affluent backgrounds.
Over 1,000 adults were asked questions about state-run faith schools by polling company Opinion Research Business on behalf of the Church of England.
The majority, 65 per cent, agreed that Church of England schools are not the same as local authority run state schools.
Of those, six in ten people said church schools don’t contribute to divisions in society, and eight in ten believe they provide a broad and balanced education.
More than three-quarters of those who think church schools are different from state schools 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.
The Revd Jan Ainsworth, the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, said: “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.
“Clearly, a large number of church, as well as non-church, families are keen to send their children to such schools.
“We are not going to be forced to apologise for their popularity, or dilute their distinctive and inclusive values, by those who wish to covertly dismantle the foundations of church schools.”
A recently-formed coalition of teachers’ groups and think-tanks has launched a campaign to prevent faith schools from ‘discriminating’ in their selection of pupils on religious grounds.
However, the Government says it supports faith schools. Minister for Children Kevin Brennan has insisted: “Faith schools are a long-established part of the state school system in England.
“Parents should be able to choose the type of education and ethos they want for their children.
“The bottom line is that faith schools are successful, thriving, popular and here to stay. It is down to locally accountable councils and communities themselves, not some campaign group, to decide what sort of schools they should have.”