Children are being baptised several years after birth to boost chances of getting into Roman Catholic schools, research has suggested.
Having a child baptised is seen as a way into the best schools
The number of baptisms of children aged between one and 13 has risen by almost a quarter since 1958, according to the Pastoral Research Centre Trust.
The researchers say "lapsed" Catholics are behind the rise in late baptisms.
The study also suggests 64% of babies aged under one were baptised in 2005, compared to 85% in 1958.
The trust's Tony Spencer said that a lapse in religious discipline meant some parents were having their children baptised between the ages of two and three after realising it would help them gain a place at an oversubscribed Catholic school.
"It is a great compliment from the community at large to the quality of the Catholic school system," Mr Spencer said.
The trust added that the falling infant mortality rate has also meant parents are less concerned about having their children baptised.
Oona Stannard, director of the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales, said it was reassuring that people sought baptism for their children, regardless of age.
"That the child is brought into the Church and the family's bond with the Church strengthened can only but be a good thing, irrespective of whether the child does eventually have the benefit of attending a Catholic school," she said.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "As Ed Balls made clear only this week, it is for local communities to determine the types of schools that they want.
"All schools are bound by our new admissions code which stipulates fair admissions policy for all schools. Schools are under a legal duty to promote community cohesion, understanding and tolerance."
Read a selection of your comments on this story:
I would love to send my daughter and son to a Catholic Secondary School in Burgess Hill, which is performing well in league tables and is an excellent school. However I am probably not going to be able to do this as, although my children and myself and my husband are all baptised, we are Church of England, and we regularly attend the local village church which we all love. I am in a dilemma in that if I put her name down as first choice for this school, I will probably be discriminated against as we are not catholic and she will not be offered a place - however my friend who is catholic will get her daughter in, as I believe this school will only take catholics first and it is well oversubscribed.
Carolyn James, West Sussex
While only being involved in the school system as a grandparent I must stress that it takes much more than being baptised to get into a Catholic school (especially a secondary school) the parents have to be able to demonstrate that they are PRACTISING Catholics and involved with their local church community. I have one grandson at secondary school and two more due to start next September and, despite the parents having ALWAYS being heavily involved with their local churches, there is no guarantee that either of them will get a place. Also, I must say that the parish priests are fully aware of the parents who suddenly become very active in their parishes when school application forms are due!!
Val Neary, Purley, UK
It is true that parents who do not attend church for years try and get their children baptised to gain entry to Catholic schools often claiming the child has expressed a wish/interest in the faith when they are ten. As a priest I will not baptise and child over 7 unless they are attending mass regularly and a first holy communion programme which runs for 6 months. This seems to separate those who are genuine and those only looking for access to the schools. Catholic parishes pay a great deal into central funds to maintain these schools and it is not right that those who attend mass every week should be expected to subsidise those families who do nothing for the life of the Church. It is unfortunate that baptism is now the only criteria used in determining the faith qualification for school admission. It means that those who support the life of the Church both with their personal commitment as well as financially get no preference over someone who has been baptised 11 years ago and not been inside a church since.
Keith Miles, Gloucester
My sister (atheist - ex-protestant) and her husband (atheist - ex Muslim) got my nephew baptised so he could go to the local C of E primary school. It worked! It has NOTHING to do with a bond between church and family. It's all about making sure your kids don't go to the underachieving ghetto school next door.
Every non-religious person, myself included, is affected by religious schools, because they are forced to pay for them through the tax system even though they are actively discriminated against in terms of entry. One only has to look at the admissions policy for religious schools and they make clear that religious people get priority and the non-religious are only welcome if they are prepared to tolerate the ethos of discrimination..
Keith Charters, Glasgow, Scotland
I am a Catholic High School Chaplain. A primary reason for this change is simply that the church makes clear that the unbaptised child is not destined for Hell, unlike popular belief in past times. As a result, baptisms often happen at a more relaxed pace nowadays, when a child is a year old or more. Also, the church is beginning to serve its young people far better, so some youngsters now are making the decision to be baptised themselves. As for baptism just for the sake of going to a Catholic school, it's just not that simple. The Code of Cannon Law states that, for a child to be baptised, "there must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion". This usually means that at least one parent must be at least basically practising the Catholic faith, and priests are required to prepare parents and child appropriately. It is this careful attitude to life and faith that is at the heart of the success of Catholic schools. To say later baptisms have increased just because people want to get their child into school is not correct, and is at least a vast over-simplification.
Simon BG, Wakefield
It is a national disgrace that in the twenty-first century access to state education can be determined by the professed religious beliefs of a child's parents. Moreover, ample evidence exists (ask OFSTED) to support the allegation that parents baptize their children for no other reason than to gain admission to a church supported school because they perform better academically, and that this stems from simple selection - not God. Faith based segregationist schools Balkanize our education system and continue to tear the fabric of our society: ask Northern Ireland all about it.
Dr A Staples, Bath, UK
I am sorry but this is just being two faced! I am far from perfect, but I resent the fact when the parents use the church only for schools, weddings, etc. The moment the children have left school, you do not see the parents any more.
Nicola Clapton, Hackney, London
Rather than being ". . . a great compliment from the community at large to the quality of the Catholic school system," as Mr Spencer says, I think it is rather a damning indictment of the state school system. For the overwhelming majority of parents there is no choice as to where they send their children and for Ed Balls to say that it is for local communities to determine the types of schools that they want is pure spin and a collective governmental washing of hands of the whole issue of the debacle of state education.
The system is being played by the middle classes who have no interest in religion but who know the chavs won't have the gumption to play the selection game. The hypocritical churches are happy to go along with it as it boosts their dwindling attendances.