The number of children who receive free school meals (FSM) is a misleading indicator of a school’s socio-economic composition, Catholic academics have said.

The figure is often used by campaigners to accuse Catholic schools of not taking a fair share of poor pupils.

But researchers at St Mary’s University, Twickenham have shown that data from the Department for Education only inc­lude the number of children actually receiving free meals, rather than all those who are eligible but may not have signed up for them.

The report, entitled “The Take-up of Free School Meals in Catholic Schools in England and Wales”, highlights that while, according to FSM figures, there are a comparatively low number of pupils from deprived backgrounds in Catholic schools, alternative deprivation barometers, such the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index, show that such children are in fact over-represented in Catholic schools.

The report reveals that 18.4 per cent of children in Catholic primary schools live in the most deprived areas, compared with 13.8 per cent of pupils across state primary schools as a whole.

Researchers argue that their findings challenge critics of faith schools who claim that Catholic schools favour admitting privileged children.

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