Are you facing the prospect of your child being unable to gain admittance to your local school, because of religious selection? Or have you had to game the system in order to get them in? Are you happy to live in a society in which children are discriminated against on these grounds, while parents feel compelled to behave in this manner?

This situation is clearly unfair, and that’s what we’re here to challenge. We are a new campaign that is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations, aiming to tackle the single issue of religious selection in school admissions.

You can find advice for parents and ways you can get involved in the Campaign as well as more about us and why this is an issue that urgently needs addressing.

Faith school admissions found to be socio-economically exclusive

New research looking at how different types of school affect opportunities for children from poorer families has found faith schools to be a major source of socio-economic disadvantage and segregation in England’s state funded school system.

Statistical analysis released today by the education data analyst website SchoolDash reveals that, overall, school admission policies are playing ‘a greater part than local [residential] deprivation in the uneven distribution of poorer pupils’ between schools. The analysis also finds that while many faith schools are disproportionately located in poorer areas, they tend to cream skim and cater to children from more affluent families within those areas and ‘specifically those [schools] affiliated with Roman Catholicism and the small number associated with various non-Christian faiths.’

The research finds the Church of England school sector to be more inclusive than most other types of faith school, but less socio-economically inclusive than non-faith schools. The researchers find however that C of E schools tend to be ‘located in areas of low deprivation’ to begin with. Over 95% of state funded faith schools in England are sponsored by either the Church of England or Catholic Church.

Fair Admissions Campaign Steering Group member and Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘Religious selection by popular faith schools incentivises families to engage in religious cheating, artificially boosts the social and ability profile of the schools’ pupils, and disadvantages those from deprived backgrounds. Most faith schools were originally set up to educate the disadvantaged. It is therefore highly embarrassing that many should encourage religious dishonesty and have become so elitist. It is time for religious discrimination by state funded faith schools to be phased out.’

The latest analysis reinforces research from the Fair Admissions Campaign in 2013 that found a strong relationship between religious selection of pupils by faith schools and the schools having more socio-economically exclusive intakes. Non-religiously selective faith schools were found to admit 1% fewer children entitled to free schools meals than would be expected if they admitted local children. Faith schools with a religiously selective admission policy however typically admitted 30% fewer such children. Entitlement to free school meals is a key indicator of deprivation used by government. There is a variable approach to religious selection within the C of E sector, while almost all Roman Catholic schools in England will select all pupils by faith if sufficiently oversubscribed.

 

Notes

Socio-economic selection due to religious selection

The Fair Admissions Campaign’s December 2013 research showing a correlation between religious and socio-economic selection can be found at the ‘Overall averages’ page at http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map/. A briefing is also available at http://fairadmissions.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Fair-Admissions-Campaign-map-in-depth-briefing.pdf.

A November 2012 YouGov survey commissioned by The Sutton Trust looked at strategies that parents used to try and get their child into a better school, and found that 6% of parents with children at a state funded school admitted to attending church services, when they did not previously, so that their child could go to a church school. For parents from socio-economic group A this figure rose to 10%. A quarter of pupil places at state funded schools in England and Wales are at faith schools, suggesting a significant proportion at faith schools have been won on the basis of religious cheating.

Worryingly, evidence has emerged that suggests baptism could also be being misused. The Pastoral Research Centre released data in Jan 2014 showing that while the number of baptisms of children under the age of one in England and Wales was in long term decline, the number of baptisms of those aged over one had risen dramatically over the previous decade. The change is consistent with parents having children baptised as their child nears school age, as part of a strategy to increase their chance of being admitted to a popular Catholic school.

Most Church Schools were set up to educate the disadvantaged
Serving the better-heeled in their communities is a distortion to the original mission of most Church schools. The National Society, which created most Anglican schools, was established to provide schools for children from poor families. Similarly the precursor to the Catholic Education Service of England and Wales was named the ‘Catholic Poor School Committee’.

Families in Dublin march against religious discrimination in faith school admissions

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Over 600 people in Dublin have taken part in a demonstration against inaction of the Irish Government and Parliament to end religious discrimination in pupil admissions in the country’s state funded school system.

The march was prompted by an announcement last month from Ireland’s recently appointed Education Minister Richard Bruton that, rather than making faith school admission policies more religiously inclusive, the Government would be seeking to speed up its plans to open more multi-denominational and non-faith schools. The demonstration also followed the Irish Parliament’s decision last month to delay by 12 months further consideration of a private members Bill that would moderate the extent to which faith schools can discriminate against local children where the school serves as the main local school.

The march was organised by the recently established group Education Equality, which campaigns to ensure all state funded schools in the Republic of Ireland are made open and accessible to people of all religious and non-religious beliefs. Around 95% of Irish state funded schools are faith schools, and 90% are under the patronage of the Catholic Church.

At the start of June a group of Catholic educationalists in Ireland urged that their schools reserve 10% of places for non-Catholics. Ireland and the UK are among the small minority of developed countries that permit any form of religious discrimination in the selection of pupils to state funded schools.

Fair Admissions Campaign Group Steering Group member and Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘Opting not to make existing schools more open and suitable to those of different beliefs, but to instead open more schools that cater to those of certain groups, is a recipe for entrenching segregation and division. This approach should be recognised as both socially irresponsible and a surrender to narrow interests.

‘The recent suggestion from a group of Irish Catholic educators that their schools should admit a small proportion of non-Catholics was very modest. However, it should serve to highlight – in Ireland and elsewhere – the potential for a consensus to emerge when participants examine their shared commitment to the common good.’

 

Notes

Most developed countries do not permit state funded faith schools to select pupils by faith

A 2012 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that the Republic of Ireland and UK were among the very small number of OECD member countries that permit religious selection at state schools (table 2.3 p15). Our own research has reinforced this finding.

The OECD identified Estonia and Israel as also having religiously selective state funded schools. In some Canadian provinces there are publicly funded Catholic schools that can refuse admission to non-Catholics before high school. We are also aware that in Germany a small number of private religious schools receive state funds and can religiously select. In the Netherlands private faith schools that receive state funding can loosely require that pupils and parents support the mission/vision of the school. But it is not aware of any other countries. Countries with strong religious traditions, such as Italy, Spain, Poland and the USA, do not have religious discrimination in admissions to any state-funded schools. We lists ten reasons why religious selection in pupil admissions should be opposed here.

70 Rabbis call for inclusive school admissions in challenge to Chief Rabbi

Rabbis from across the UK have written an open letter to the new Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening opposing calls made by the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis for new ‘faith’ schools to be allowed to select all of their places on the basis of religion. The Chief Rabbi has reportedly been putting significant pressure on the Government to drop the requirement that all new Free Schools must leave 50% of their places open to children in the local community, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs. The group of Rabbis who have written to the Education Secretary, however, say that the requirement benefits both ‘the children concerned and the society into which they will emerge and help shape’. The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC), which brings together a wide range of groups opposed to religious discrimination in school admissions, has welcomed the letter.

Currently, new Free Schools are only able to select up to half of their places with reference to religion, a policy which in the words of the Department for Education (DfE) is designed to ‘help tackle segregation and ensure young people will experience the diversity of religious beliefs that make up modern Britain’. The Chief Rabbi has publicly disagreed with this approach, however, and only this month a spokesperson for his office stated that Jewish schools should provide ‘a completely immersive Jewish environment – something which is far more challenging if the 50 per cent rule associated with free schools is applied’.

The letter, signed by 68 Rabbis, was initiated by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue, who is also chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education which campaigns for ‘faith’ school reform. Contrary to comments made by the Chief Rabbi, it states that ‘Jewish values can happily co-exist with social cohesion’ in education, and that an open, non-discriminatory admissions policy achieves a ‘balance’ so that children can gain ‘both a sense of religious roots and openness to others’.

The Office of the Chief Rabbi is not the only religious organisation to have been lobbying the Government to drop the 50% cap. The Catholic Education Service has long called for such a move, with Director Paul Barber stating earlier this year that the Catholic Church would continue to ‘ask the Government to remove the barriers’ which currently left them ‘unable to engage’ in the Free Schools programme.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said, ‘The 50% cap communicates that state funded schools should seek to be shared spaces and shows faith schools do not need to discriminate to maintain their religious ethos. To remove it risks sending a terrible signal affirming that religious identities and beliefs must be in antagonism with one another. As the cap has operated with ease since 2010, it should be extended to all state funded faith schools, to help better promote integration and harmony.’

Faith Schools Campaigner at the British Humanist Association (BHA) Jay Harman commented, ‘The amount of pressure that the “religious lobby” has been putting on Government to allow their schools to be more discriminatory and more divisive is both inappropriate and entirely out-of-step with efforts to improve integration in the education system. What this letter shows is that the position of these groups is also entirely out-of-step with the majority of religious people, who evidently believe that social cohesion and mutual understanding are best served by schools which are inclusive, open, and diverse. We hope the new Education Secretary will pay close attention to the views expressed in this letter, and in addition to keeping the 50% rule will consider going further by introducing requirements on schools to be even more inclusive in their admission arrangements.’

Notes

For further comment of information please contact the Fair Admissions Campaign on info@fairadmissions.uk or 020 7324 3078.

Read the FAC’s previous news item ‘Cross-party group of MPs call for further limits to faith school’s ability to religiously discriminate in admissions’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/cross-party-group-of-mps-call-for-further-limits-to-faith-schools-ability-to-religiously-discriminate-in-admissions/

The FAC wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and LecturersBritish Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education AssociationLiberal Youth, the Local Schools NetworkRichmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

Peers critical of Government ban on FAC helping parents challenge unlawful school admissions

In a debate in the House of Lords yesterday afternoon, parliamentarians once again voiced their opposition to the Government’s proposed ban on civil society organisations raising concerns about schools’ unlawful admission arrangements. The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC), whose joint report with the British Humanist Association (BHA) published last year revealed that virtually all religiously selective schools in England were failing to comply with the School Admissions Code, says parents and children ‘will be the only ones to lose out’ if the ban goes ahead, and has called on the Government to reverse its decision.

Limits on who will be allowed to object to school admissions arrangements were proposed earlier this year by the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who claimed that the move was designed to ‘stop vexatious complaints against faith schools by secularist campaign groups’. However, after over 60 questions were tabled in Parliament on the issue by MPs and peers from a range of parties, Schools Minister Lord Nash was forced to admit that the overwhelming majority (87%) of the FAC’s and BHA’s objections to the admission arrangements of religiously selective schools had been upheld.

Indeed, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, to whom objections to school admission arrangements must be submitted, found at least one violation in every school that the investigation covered. These violations included schools directly discriminating on the basis of race and gender, failing to properly prioritise children in care, and unlawfully asking for information that they did not need, such as parents’ countries of origin, their medical history, or whether or not they spoke English as a second language.

Except for the Minister responding to the debate, Baroness Evans, every peer who contributed to the debate was critical of the Government’s proposals. Shadow Education Spokesperson Lord Watson described the ban as ‘a clear case of shoot the messenger rather than address the problem’, while Baroness Massey labelled it as ‘counterproductive’ and ‘a nonsense’. Echoing these comments, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Lord Storey commented that far from being ‘vexatious’, it was thanks to the FAC and BHA ‘that many wrongs have been righted’, and Lord Desai added that the BHA’s work on admissions was ‘for the good of the education system’. Lord Taverne also contributed, stating that ‘the complexity of some schools’ admissions policies seems designed to confuse and mislead.’

The FAC’s Richy Thompson said, ‘The message in Parliament last night was clear. Schools that seek to bend admission rules to manipulate their intakes must be held to account. The report we published last year may be an inconvenient truth for the faith school sector, but the Department for Education’s decision to back the law breakers, punish the whistleblowers, and seemingly ignore the rights of children altogether, is nonsensical. We’re glad that those speaking in last night’s debate agree and we will continue to push not only for the ban to be reversed but also for a fairer and more transparent admissions system to be introduced.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact the FAC on info@fairadmissions.org.uk or 020 7324 3078.

Read the full debate: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2016-05-11/debates/16051156000172/SchoolAdmissionsCode

See the FAC’s previous news item ‘Parliamentarians and wider public denounce Government move to ban FAC from raising concerns about schools admissions’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/parliamentarians-and-wider-public-denounce-government-move-to-ban-fac-from-raising-concerns-about-school-admissions/

Read the BHA’s letter to the Secretary of State: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016-01-28-Letter-from-the-BHA.pdf

Read the Secretary of State’s response: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Letter-from-Nicky-Morgan-to-Andrew-Copson-19-02-2016.pdf

Read the Department for Education’s press release announcing the proposed ban: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/parents-to-get-greater-say-in-the-school-admissions-process

Read the FAC’s previous news item ‘Government moves to ban organisations from exposing law-breaking schools unfairly restricting access to children and parents’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/government-moves-to-ban-organisations-from-exposing-law-breaking-schools-unfairly-restricting-access-to-children-and-parents/

Read the BHA’s comment piece in the Independent ‘Is Nicky Morgan on the side of children or faith organisations’: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/is-nicky-morgan-on-the-side-of-children-or-faith-organisations-a6837811.html

Read the FAC report ‘An Unholy mess: How virtually all religiously selective schools are breaking the law: https://humanism.org.uk/2015/10/01/an-unholy-mess-new-report-reveals-near-universal-noncompliance-with-school-admissions-code-among-state-faith-schools-in-england/

Read the FAC’s briefing on the report: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/anunholymess-briefing/

The Fair Admissions Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and LecturersBritish Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education AssociationLiberal Youth, the Local Schools NetworkRichmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

Cross-party group of MPs call for further limits to faith school’s ability to religiously discriminate in admissions

A cross-party group of MPs have this week tabled an Early Day Motion urging for the current limit restricting faith free schools from selecting no more than half of their pupils by faith to be extended to all other state funded schools, to help boost integration and community cohesion in society. The Early Day Motion seeks to draw the attention of other MPs to the issue.

Fair Admissions Campaign Steering Group member, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘Many faith free schools still exclude children on religious grounds and some admit a very homogeneous intake. However, the call for the 50% cap to be extended to other state funded faith schools is to be welcomed as a stepping stone towards greater reform, and highlights the growing consensus opposed to faith discrimination in society.’

The 50% faith free schools cap is, like the Early Day Motion, the subject of cross-party support. The cap was implemented by the coalition Government in May 2010 and has since remained as Government policy. The policy built on the approach of Labour’s last Secretary of State for Education, Ed Balls, whereby most of the final tranches of faith based academy schools approved under his tenure were required to adhere to a 50% faith selection limit. Attempts to prevent faith schools operating exclusive admission arrangements have however come under brutal attack.

Despite calls for it to soften its position, the Catholic Church of England and Wales continues to boycott the free schools programme in protest at the 50% selection rule. This is despite two private Catholic schools having already reopened as free schools, most private Roman Catholic schools in England and Wales not operating a religiously selective admission policy, and most state funded school systems in the developed world with faith schools not permitting schools to select pupils by faith. This includes many schools that are Roman Catholic. In January a group of sixteen civil society groups signed an open letter calling for the existing 50% cap to remain in place.

 

Notes

The Early Day Motion states:

That this House acknowledges that mutual trust and understanding between people of different backgrounds grows when they are schooled together, which also benefits social cohesion in society at large; and therefore urges that the current policy where new faith free schools in England cannot select more than half their pupils on faith grounds is extended to all types of state-funded faith schools.

The academic evidence base has consistently shown a clear and positive contribution to social integration from ethnic mixing in schools.

A 2012 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that the UK was one of only a very few OECD member countries that permit religious selection at state schools (table 2.3 p15). Research by the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) has reinforced this finding. The OECD identified that the Republic of Ireland, Estonia and Israel as having religiously selective state funded schools. In some Canadian provinces there are publicly funded Catholic schools that can refuse admission to non-Catholics before high school. The FAC are also aware that in Germany, a small number of private religious schools receive state funds and can religiously select. In the Netherlands, private faith schools that receive state funding can loosely require that pupils and parents support the mission/vision of the school. But we are not aware of any other countries. Countries with strong religious traditions, such as Italy, Spain and Poland, do not have religious discrimination in admissions to any state-funded schools.