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.

Public call for end to selection of pupils by faith at Church of England Schools

20 members of the Church of England have issued an open letter urging that the Church changes its pupil admissions guidance so that all its schools move towards operating open and non-religiously selective admission arrangements. Published in tomorrow’s Guardian, the letter highlights how religiously selective policies place the Church in a conflicted position, by inflating Church attendance figures and skewing Church School intakes towards the children of more affluent, so boosting the schools’ results. The signatories argue that is at fundamental odds with the Church’s mission to wider society, so should be reformed.

The letter has been signed by clergy, Members of Parliament and active lay persons. Theologian and writer, Theo Hobson, who helped organise the letter, said ‘Many Church Schools already do not select pupils by faith, highlighting that it is not necessary to have selection to maintain a Christian ethos. In fact, it is by operating policies that incentivise religious inauthenticity and which disadvantage the poor that Church schools undermine their ethos. The Church can and should demonstrate greater leadership and revise its admissions guidance.’

Letter signatory, the Rev Stephen Terry, said, ‘Faith selection at Church of England schools makes the Church appear defensive and inward looking, when the schools should look outwards, as an expression of the warmth and generosity of our mission to the whole community. Having open admissions would not just better serve local communities, but undoubtedly help achieve a more positive image and reputation for the Church in society.’

The statutory School Admissions Code requires state funded faith schools that set their own admissions policy to have regard for admissions guidance from their designated religious authority. The authority for Church of England schools is their respective Diocese. The Church of England’s Board of Education and the National Society issue admissions guidance for school governors and Dioceses. It has been almost four years since it was last updated.

The full letter is reproduced below:

Dear Editor,

We are a group of Anglican clergy and laypeople urging that the Church amends its school admissions guidance, so that its schools no longer select pupils on grounds of church attendance. Currently many oversubscribed Church Schools reject non-churchgoing families, even though the families may live near to the school, while this system is open to abuse.

A December 2013 Sutton Trust commissioned survey showed that 6% of parents with a child at a state funded school admitted to attending church services when they would have not otherwise, so a child could go to a Church School. Considering that a quarter of pupil places in the state system are at faith schools and many faith schools do not reward Church attendance (many show preference to baptised or local children), the survey points to widespread abuse among those that do. Worryingly, among parents of socio-economic group A the level of false Church attendance rose to 10%.

On a superficial level this is in the Church’s interest, as attendance figures in many parishes are inflated and the standard of our schools boosted by the admittance of children from more affluent families. Ultimately however the universality of the Church is being turned to the advantage of those who are already advantaged. We believe this issue presents a slow-burning crisis.

We urge the Church to review and then amend its national guidance on pupil admissions, so that schools are guided towards having open admission arrangements. Church of England schools should look outwards, as an expression of the warmth and generosity of its mission to the whole community. Ensuring this would achieve a more positive standing for the Church in society and better serve local communities.

Yours sincerely,

  • Christina Baron, Lay member of General Synod
  • Simon Barrow, co-Director of Ekklesia
  • Jonathan Bartley, co-Director of Ekklesia
  • Revd Richard Bentley
  • Revd Jeremy Chadd, Vicar of St Chad, Sunderland
  • Revd Canon Richard Franklin, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Weymouth
  • Baroness Harris of Richmond
  • Savitri Hensman, writer on Christian social ethics and theology
  • Theo Hobson, theologian and commentator
  • Revd Richard C B Jones, Associate Minister, Borders Group of Parishes; Hereford Diocese
  • Revd Richard Kirker
  • Reverend Una Kroll
  • Revd Professor Christopher Rowland
  • Barry Sheerman MP, Lay Canon, Wakefield Cathedral; House of Commons Education Select Committee Chair 1999-2010
  • Professor Lord Smith of Clifton
  • John Swallow, former President of the National Association of Head Teachers
  • Revd Stephen Terry, Rector of the Parish of Aldrington in Hove; former Chair of Governors at a C of E state funded school
  • Revd Keith Trivasse, Associate Priest Parish of Bury Roch Valley, Bury; Manchester
  • Professor Keith Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity Emeritus, Oxford
  • Revd Simon Wilson

 

Notes

Misuse of religiously selective policies

The Sutton Trust’s December 2013 survey looked at strategies that parents used to try and get their child into a better school. When it is considered how few pupil places the 6% of parents that engage in inauthentic church worship are chasing, the survey suggests widespread abuse in admissions to popular schools that reward church attendance. Although a third of state funded schools in England are faith schools, they only provide a quarter of the pupil places and many faith schools do not reward Church worship. This is because they operate open admissions, or are not oversubscribed (so must admit all children that wish to attend), or because they reward other religious activities. For example, 40% of places in England’s state funded faith sector are at Roman Catholic schools and most such schools instead show preference to those on the basis of baptism.

Worrying 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.

Socio-economic selection due to religious selection

It has long been established that the faith sector admits children from more affluent backgrounds. However, an exhaustive December 2013 study by the Fair Admissions Campaign showed a correlation between religious and socio-economic selection. It foundthat comprehensive secondary schools in England with no religious character admitted 11% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected if they admitted those children living nearest to them. Comprehensive Church of England secondaries were found to admit 10% fewer, but a sharp difference was found between those that do and do not select by faith. Those that had a fully selective oversubscription policy admitted 31% fewer, whereas those that did not selected 4% more than would be expected. Eligibility for free school meals is a key government measure of deprivation.

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’.

High Court decision due in London Oratory School challenge to Schools Adjudicator’s ruling on discriminatory admissions policy

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week, the High Court heard submissions as to whether one of the country’s leading state secondary schools has been selecting its pupils on ethnic and socio-economic grounds in its admissions policy. After what is believed to be the only time a school has been found to discriminate on both these grounds, the London Oratory School in west London was ordered to rewrite its admissions criteria by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) last year, a decision which it has chosen to judicially review. Mr Justice Cobb, who presided over the hearing, is expected to announce a decision over the next few weeks. The British Humanist Association (BHA), a supporting group of the Fair Admissions Campaign, was an objector in the case that prompted the OSA’s decision and is an interested party in the ongoing legal proceedings.

In a damning report of the London Oratory’s admissions policy, the watchdog found a total of 105 breaches of the Schools Admissions Code, which all state schools are obliged to follow. The breaches included: giving priority to pupils whose parents take part in church activities such as flower arranging and choir singing; favouring children baptised before six months old; taking into account the religious practice of both parents instead of just one; and failing to allow for the admittance of pupils with non-religious parents, even if the school is not oversubscribed.

The school applied for a judicial review of the decision in October last year. This week’s court date came nearly two years after the BHA submitted the original complaint to the adjudicator in May 2013.

BHA Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson commented, ‘The degree to which the London Oratory’s admissions criteria have both ethnically and socio-economically skewed its intake is appalling, and the Schools Adjudicator was right to find against it. It is amongst the ten most socio-economically selective state secondary schools in the country, taking just 6% of pupils eligible for school meals compared to 36% locally. We hope the High Court will uphold the adjudicator’s decision.’

Notes

For further information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072 or email info@fairadmissions.org.uk.

The BHA first complained about the school’s admissions policy in May 2013. In August 2013 the OSA issued a decision upholding the complaint and ruling against the school, but the school threatened to judicially review, and in January 2014 the OSA found an inconsequential error in its report, leading to the decision being quashed. The new determination made in July 2014, which also looked at the school’s latest policy, again found against the school, and on a much more comprehensive basis than before.

Read the OSA’s decision from July 2014: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/ADA-2410-The-London-Oratory-School-LBHF-15-July-2014.doc

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.

Brand new Catholic school that High Court ruled was ‘unneeded’ gets funds intended for schools ‘in urgent need of repair’

St Richard Reynolds Catholic High School, a secondary school in Richmond-upon-Thames which was opened just over a year ago, has been allocated funding by the Government as part of the ‘priority school building programme’, a fund for ‘schools in need of urgent repair’. The school only opened in 2013 and in 2012 was subject to a judicial review by local parents and residents who formed the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC) and supported by British Humanist Association (BHA). The review was over whether or not there was a ‘need’ for a new school with a 100% discriminatory admissions policy or whether it was simply ‘desirable’. The court ruled against RISC and the BHA and the school went on to open despite the local opposition. The BHA and RISC have questioned why this funding is being diverted from schools in need which are open to all children to a highly selective school which the Catholic Diocese agreed to pay towards and which a High Court judge ruled was not even ‘needed’ in the first place.

In 2012 the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster and the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames agreed to open a fully religiously selective school. The Council spent £8.5 million buying the site for the school and associated buildings and in return the Diocese agreed to spend £5-8 million renovating the buildings. The understanding at the time was that these were all the funds that were needed. As a result of the council having previously described the school as ‘needed’, ‘necessary’ and a ‘requirement’, the BHA and RISC decided to judicially review this decision, arguing that these statements meant the school should be a different type of school from the one proposed (as the law says that any ‘needed’ new school should be of this different type). This mattered because the other type of school could only select half of places on the basis of faith. However unfortunately the judge in the case decided that the council, when it had made these statements, had merely meant ‘desirable’.

The school subsequently opened in September 2013. Questions can now be asked about whether the Diocese has paid the Council all of the funds it promised it – given that the school is to receive funds from the priority school building programme.

BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘It is ludicrous that funds intended to go to the schools most “in need of urgent repair” are instead being spent on a brand new school that a judicial review established was not even needed in the first place – never mind about the fact that the impression originally given was that the local diocese was covering all these costs, in order to secure the establishment of the school in the first place. This whole project has been a complete waste of state funds.’

RISC Coordinator Jeremy Rodell commented, ‘After all the controversy about the opening of St Richard Reynolds Catholic High School, it appears that the Diocese has now found a way to get the taxpayer to pick up the refurbishment costs it seemed that it originally agreed it would pay for. This comes shortly after the school’s cynical proposal to convert to Academy status, so the taxpayer will pick up even the small share of ongoing costs for which they are responsible, while keeping the exclusive admissions policy. It looks like game, set and match to the school and the Diocese.

‘Yes, local Catholics are taxpayers too. But being a taxpayer does not give anyone the right to their own school, from which other local children are now barred by the admissions policy, and then to expect us all to bear the costs.’

Notes

For further information or comment please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072 or email info@fairadmissions.org.uk.

Read a summary of the background to the establishment of St Richard Reynolds Catholic High School: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Richard_Reynolds_Catholic_College

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.

 

 

Chief Schools Adjudicator’s annual report criticises complexity of some faith-based admissions policies

The annual report of the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) has today criticised the complexity and lack of clarity of some faith-based admissions arrangements; the lack of compliance by the guidance of some religious authorities with the School Admissions Code; the fact that some faith schools have not been taking looked after and previously looked after children and children with medical or social needs until after all those of the faith of the school; and the fact that some faith schools have resisted complying with local fair access protocols.

In the report, Dr Elizabeth Passmore, Chief Schools Adjudicator, writes that ‘Some of the schools with a religious character have faith-based oversubscription criteria with faith requirements that are extensive and require a parent to be well organised and study the arrangements carefully, sometimes several years before applying for a place, to ensure that their child will have a realistic chance of gaining a place at the school. The Code at paragraph 1.37 says, “Admission authorities must ensure that parents can easily understand how any faith-based criteria will be reasonably satisfied.” Admission authorities need to look carefully at their faith-based oversubscription criteria and ensure they comply with this requirement.’

Welcoming the publication, Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at the British Humanist Assocation (BHA), commented, ‘It is vital that all schools, including all religious schools, comply with the School Admissions Code. The Code is designed to ensure that schools’ admission arrangements are clear and fair and yet we have seen widespread issues with non-compliance, particularly from some of the most socio-economically selective schools. The Fair Admissions Campaign will be publishing further research on this matter in due course.’

Commenting on the annual report, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said, ‘From a religious point of view, it is profoundly disappointing that some faith schools use admissions procedures to edit out children they consider undesirable – it begs the question of what sort of religious ethos they really have and what happened to their mission to serve the community around them?’


What the report says

60. The complexity of some schools’ admission arrangements continues to be a matter of concern… The complex arrangements compared with the clearest have some or all of: numerous oversubscription criteria and sometimes subcategories within them; different categories of places; more than one catchment area; feeder schools; tens of points available and needed to gain priority; banding and therefore tests to be taken; aptitude assessment; and several faith-based oversubscription criteria.

62. Schools designated as having a religious character may include faith-based oversubscription criteria that can be applied if the school is oversubscribed. The relevant faith body has an important role in ensuring that the guidance it gives about admissions, especially about the oversubscription criteria, takes account of the requirements set out in the Code. There are examples of clear and precise guidance that includes a limited faith requirement and a short, clear specimen supplementary information form. Other examples of guidance have not been amended following the publication of the 2012 Code, and offer supplementary forms of several pages that include matters which do not comply with the Code. There have been many objections and referrals concerning the admission arrangements of faith schools this year. Some cases have been about matters other than the faith-based oversubscription criteria, for example, priority for children attending the school’s nursery; others have been to the faith criteria and whether the practice specified complies with the Code; others have queried exactly what is required to meet the faith-based oversubscription criteria so that a child can gain priority for admission to the school. Some of the schools with a religious character have faith-based oversubscription criteria with faith requirements that are extensive and require a parent to be well organised and study the arrangements carefully, sometimes several years before applying for a place, to ensure that their child will have a realistic chance of gaining a place at the school. The Code at paragraph 1.37 says, “Admission authorities must ensure that parents can easily understand how any faith-based criteria will be reasonably satisfied.” Admission authorities need to look carefully at their faith-based oversubscription criteria and ensure they comply with this requirement.

99. As in previous years a number of local authorities express concern that some schools designated as having a religious character give priority, as permitted by the Code, to looked after, previously looked after and all other children of the faith before looked after and previously looked after children not of the faith. This may result in it being difficult, or even impossible, for a looked after or previously looked after child other than of the faith to be admitted to some popular, high achieving faith schools.

102. Some local authorities express concern at the lack of or in the level of priority given to children with disabilities in the arrangements of own admission authority schools. In a substantial number of these schools, the priority may be second only to looked after and previously looked after children, whereas many faith schools in particular give priority to all children of the faith before giving priority to other children not of the faith who have social, medical or physical needs. The situation is thus similar to that described above concerning looked after and previously looked after children. If the school is oversubscribed with children of the faith then children with social, medical or physical needs who are not of the faith of that school may not be offered places, irrespective of the suitability of the school for their particular needs.

112. [With respect to the fair access protocol] a number of local authorities report that not all schools are cooperative and that there is active resistance to the protocol from some. At one end of the spectrum, this resistance may be a relatively mild expression of disquiet when a school feels that, because it is not oversubscribed, it has been approached more frequently than other schools and so admits a high number of children who pose challenges. At the other extreme, there may be a more fundamental unwillingness, for example in a faith school, to admit children not of the faith through the protocol ahead of those of the faith who are on the waiting list.

 

Notes

For further information or comment please contact Paul Pettinger on 020 7324 3071 or email info@fairadmissions.org.uk.

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.

Richmond Catholic schools: cynical conversion to Academy status

In 2011-2012, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC) fought a battle for fair admissions at a new 150 pupil/year Catholic secondary in Twickenham. The battle ended in the High Court, where RISC and the British Humanist Association obtained a judicial review of the local council’s decision to provide a valuable site for the Voluntary Aided (VA) Catholic schools, rather than seeking applications for a Free School/Academy, which is supposed to be the default structure for new schools. That was important because new faith-based Free Schools/Academies can ‘only’ have up to 50% faith-based selection. The Diocese insisted on a VA structure because they wanted up to 100% faith-based selection, and the 50% limit does not apply to VA schools. Unfortunately the Department for Education intervened to support the Council’s position and the case was lost.

The VA schools opened in September 2013. As expected, they are over-subscribed and the secondary is effectively closed to the 90% of local children whose parents are not Catholics, even if they live across the road. It is, of course, state-funded.

RISC predicted back in 2012 that, having opened as VA in 2013, the school would convert to Academy status shortly afterwards, securing even more state money, while retaining its discriminatory admissions. It can get away with that because an existing (as opposed to new) VA school that converts to an Academy is allowed to keep its admissions policy. In fact RISC obtained under a Freedom of Information request a Department for Education document dated December 2011 implying the Diocese and the DfE planned to use this loophole all along.

That is now happening. The school is currently consulting on a proposal to switch to an academy. And the local press has picked up the issue:

RTT Catholic academy

 

Notes

For further information or comment please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072 or email info@fairadmissions.org.uk.

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.