Yes, the council can send people who are not of the faith to a faith school. If it has places it has to accommodate them. You can reject the place but the council is then under no obligation to come up with an alternative offer. Even if they do it could be another faith school if those are the schools with places.
Thanks for the help. What I wondered is that some of the undersubscribed schools are faith schools. So can the council send people who are not of that faith to the faith school, even though other people who are of that faith are travelling from out of borough to get there? Could you refuse to go to a faith school on the grounds that you're not of that faith?
You know after I posted this I thought that another answer is they go private - not an option for us.
I would advise you to think very carefully about the schools you list if out of catchment. I teach at a 'failing' school and the majority of kids who end up here do not put this school down as their first choice. Either they are local and in catchment but put down the 'outstanding' school in the area instead, which is seriously oversubscribed and so they miss out, or they live a few miles away. In the surrounding area there are some well regarded schools and some less well regarded schools, although not as badly thought of as the one I teach at. Most of the good schools in that area are faith schools, or have a tiny catchment area.
The children from that area who end up at the school I teach at do so because their parents listed the faith schools on their form even though they did not qualify, as well as the good school in that area with the tiny catchment area. They don't list the other less well thought of school (OFSTED satisfactory), but favour the faith schools even though they are not of that faith. Because they don't qualify for these schools they don't get places, and all that's left is this failing one a few miles away once all the places have been allocated. The irony is that most of them are not in catchment for the less well regarded school in their own area (but better than this school where they do end up) but probably would have got a place there if only they had put it on their form.
i) They get allocated an undersubscribed school out of catchment if they have identifed one in advance and listed it as last choice on their form (as an insurance policy).
ii) If they only list schools with catchments or faith criteria that they don't meet, the council will allocate them the nearest availabel school with places.
The reason some parents try very hard to find an 'insurance' school as in option i) is that a perhaps less well performing school in the vaguely local area is better than taking the risk of a council allocated school. If you go for option ii) and only list schools that you know you don't qualify for then you risk getting allocated one far from home. The council can only choose from the schools that have spaces left after all other applicants have been placed and it might be that even your more local undersubscribed schools are full by that point.
Longer term you can appeal and go on waiting lists.
You will be allocated a place at an available (not oversubscribed) school that is not necessarily on your form. This doesn't mean you can't stay on the waiting lists/appeal for those you ranked on the form though and one of those could still come up even over the summer - they do regularly so don't despair
I live in Barnet. Almost all schools are religious, selective, part religious/selective, the few that aren't have v small catchments. What happens to kids who don't live in catchment? Where do they go?