The policy has sparked anger in some quarters that standards at some of the country's best state schools may be lowered. Others say that children in care should always have been given priority by church schools on grounds of Christian fairness.
The guidelines, which come into force next year, call for all state-funded schools to give priority to children from care homes, who it describes as 'a disadvantaged group who have very low levels of attainment.'
Church schools will retain discretion over their admissions, but are coming under pressure from the church itself to abide by the guidelines. The Church of England provides a quarter of the primary schools in England. Many have excelled in league tables and are oversubscribed.
'The blunt truth is church schools are operating a selective policy creaming off the middle class,' said one governor of a London primary school that is refusing to implement the guidelines.
The government says 59% of the 60,000 children in care in England left school without a GCSE last year. It aims to cut this figure to 10% by 2006.