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.

Government moves to ban organisations from exposing law-breaking schools unfairly restricting access to children and parents

Landmark report revealed near-universal non-compliance with School Admissions Code among religiously selective schools

Following a report published by the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) last year revealing that almost every religiously-selective school in England is breaking the law, the Education Secretary has announced she now plans to ban groups and organisations from officially raising concerns about the admission arrangements of schools. In a thinly veiled attack on FAC and the British Humanist Association (BHA), which produced the report on behalf of FAC, the ban, which was first suggested by a variety of religious organisations in a meeting with Department for Education (DfE) officials last year, is specifically targeted at ‘secular campaign groups’, according to Nicky Morgan. FAC has described the proposal as an ‘affront to both democracy and the rule of law’, stating that it will allow religiously selective schools to continue abusing the system and unfairly discriminate against a huge number of children in the process.

Under current rules, any citizen or civil society organisation is allowed to lodge an objection with the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) if they believe a school has failed to comply with the School Admissions Code. In the absence of a body actively enforcing compliance with the Code, these objections from parents, local authorities, charities, and other organisations, represent the only impartial means of ensuring that schools adhere to the law and do not attempt to manipulate their intakes.

Despite this, the Government is now proposing to prohibit organisations from lodging objections with the OSA, largely in response to a joint FAC/BHA report published last year. The report, entitled An Unholy Mess: How virtually all religiously selective schools are breaking the law, detailed the rulings of the OSA on the admission arrangements of a small sample of religiously selective schools, finding widespread violations of the Code in every case. These violations acted to prevent parents from gaining fair access to state schools and the consequent rulings added credence to long-standing concerns about the cynical way in which religious selection is carried out in ‘faith’ schools. These concerns were widely shared by parents and clearly indicated that more needs to be done to enforce the Code, not less.

The Education Secretary’s comments represent the first time Nicky Morgan has confirmed her plan to push ahead with the ban, stating: ‘we are ensuring only local parents and councils can object to admissions arrangements, which will also put a stop to vexatious complaints against faith schools by secularist campaign groups’. The Government have stated that they plan to launch a consultation on the proposals in the next few months.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘We all need to be clear about what is happening here. A near-universal failure to adhere to the law in a particular area has been identified. Instead of moving to enforce the law, the Government has responded by planning to make it harder to identify future violations of it. This is an affront to both democracy and the rule of law. It will reduce parents’ fair choice of state schools in the interests of the religious organisations that run them at taxpayers’ expense and demonstrates the Government is more interested in concealing the appalling record of religious schools manipulating their intakes than it is in addressing the serious problems this causes.

‘The report we published last year was provoked by the high volume of requests for help we receive every year from parents who are victims of the unfair system, and it revealed that a huge number of children are being unfairly denied places at their local schools due to the abuse of the admissions system by religiously-selective schools. Any restrictions on who can object will not only allow this to continue, it will encourage it by drastically reducing the accountability of the admissions process. The Government is due to consult on this draconian intervention in the next few months, and we will certainly be encouraging everyone who believes in a fairer, more transparent, and less discriminatory education system to respond and oppose the proposals.

‘In the past, civil servants from the Department for Education have often welcomed, indeed encouraged, ours and others’ exposing of schools that are frustrating Government policy by unfairly and unlawfully restricting parental access to and choice of state schools. This sudden change of attitude will be to the detriment not just of transparency in a vital public service, but also to the whole of society, and in particular to parents and children, in whose interest the publicly funded education system should surely be run.’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Chair of the Accord Coalition, commented, ‘The proposed change is an attempt to deter challenges by those concerned with educational probity. Parents will have concerns about the fate of a particular child, but there is evidence of systemic problems in schools – for instance, when faith schools use criteria about the religious involvement of parents – and it is vital that groups such as the Fair Admissions Campaign are able to expose them. Far from being unwarranted, such challenges are very much in the public interest, not to mention the children who are being discriminated against.’

Notes

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

Read the 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/

Particularly notable findings of the report include:

  • Almost one in five schools were found to require practical or financial support to associated organisations – through voluntary activities such as flower arranging and choir-singing in churches or in the case of two Jewish schools, in requiring membership of synagogues (which costs money).
  • Over a quarter of schools were found to be religiously selecting in ways not deemed acceptable even by their relevant religious authorities – something which the London Oratory School was also found guilty of earlier this year.
  • A number of schools were found to have broken the Equality Act 2010 in directly discriminating on the basis of race or gender, with concerns also raised around discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and socio-economic status.
  • A majority of schools were found not to be sufficiently prioritising looked after and previously looked after children (LAC and PLAC) – in most cases discriminating in unlawful ways against LAC and PLAC who were not of the faith of the school, and in a few rare cases not prioritising LAC and PLAC at all. A quarter of schools were also found to not be making clear how children with statements of special educational needs were admitted.
  • Almost 90% of schools were found to be asking for information from parents that they do not need. This included asking parents to declare their support for the ethos of the school and even asking for applicants’ countries of origin, whether or not they speak English as an additional language, and if they have any medical issues.
  • Nearly every school was found to have problems related to the clarity, fairness, and objectivity of their admissions arrangements. This included a lack of clarity about the required frequency of religious worship and asking a religious leader to sign a form confirming religious observance, but not specifying what kind of observance is required.

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 Lecturers, British 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 Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

Faith schools undermining Government integration and anti-extremism policies by racially discriminating

A new report by the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education on behalf of the Fair Admissions Campaign, has issued a warning about how religious selection in faith school pupil admissions has become a major and worsening source of racial discrimination in Britain’s school system, and is undermining Government anti-extremism and social integration strategies.

The report highlights the problem through a case study of four religiously selective schools whose admission policies indirectly racially discriminate against local children of South Asian heritage. It finds that, due to the local interplay between religion and race, selection by faith is serving as a proxy for selection by race in many ethnically mixed areas of Britain. Over a third of state funded schools in England and Wales are faith schools and 98% of these are Christian. Faith schools often obtain good results due to the skewed social and ability profile of their pupils which, as a consequence, means that many of best schools in the country are being effectively closed to families of some racial groups.
The report finds:
  • many of those who are being disadvantaged are of South Asian heritage and from a Muslim background, and that the school system is becoming systemically discriminatory on these grounds
  • families losing out are those that would wish to send their child to the same school as other local families, but are being prevented from doing so
  • the disadvantage is being entrenched, as successive generations from the same families lose out
  • the discrimination is undermining the Government’s current Counter-Extremism Strategy of building ‘cohesive communities, tackling the segregation and feelings of alienation that can help provide fertile ground for extremist messages’
  • the disadvantage goes against the values of faith groups and their common desire to support those in society who are marginalised
  • the problems are set to only worsen due to demographic change, unless reforms are made

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘At a time when the Government is seeking to prioritise policies to combat extremism and boost opportunity for social integration, it seems deeply irresponsible that many faith schools should be undermining these goals by entrenching segregation and privilege on racial grounds.

‘We call on the Secretary of State for Education and those that sponsor faith schools to urgently reform the faith school admissions system, so that it is better aligned to existing policies and is brought into line with the realities of operating in a diverse society. The current system is deeply flawed, and lets down religious values, community cohesion and many local families.’

The report, produced on behalf of the Fair Admissions Campaign, questions the legality of schools operating an oversubscription policy that indirectly discriminates against children on the grounds of race. It urges the Government to extend its current cap of 50% religious selection in admissions at newly created academy faith schools, to all existing state funded faith schools. As an immediate measure, it urges religious authorities that sponsor faith schools to adopt the proposal put forward by the 2001 Home Office sponsored ‘Cantle Report‘ of making 25% of places at faith schools available to those from other denominations, faiths and beliefs. The ‘Cantle Report’ investigated the causes of race riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham that year and drew attention to the existence of ethnically polarised and segregated communities, which it found some faith schools were exacerbating.

Notes
The new report ‘Racial discrimination by religiously selective faith schools: a worsening problem’ can be read at http://accordcoalition.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Racial-discrimination-by-religiously-selective-faith-schools-a-worsening-problem.-FAC-Accord.-Dec-2015.-1.pdf.

Jewish state school ordered not to select children based on details of parents’ sex life

Following an objection submitted by the Fair Admissions Campaign, a Jewish state school in north London has been told by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator that it must remove from its admission policy the requirement that parents adhere to a strict set of rules relating to their sex life. Hasmonean High School in Barnet had been asking prospective parents whether or not they followed the ‘laws of family purity’, which forbid a husband and wife from engaging in sexual relations during the period of her menstruation, and for seven days afterwards. The Fair Admissions Campaign, which calls for an end to religious selection in all schools, has condemned the practice and welcomes the adjudicator’s decision.

Assessing whether or not the requirement, which appears as part of the Questionnaire for Rabbis, represented a fair, clear and objective criterion, as is required by the School Admissions Code, the adjudicator stated that ‘some parents applying for places at the school may find it embarrassing or intrusive’. He went on to conclude that it would not be possible for a Rabbi to objectively assess observance of the law, and therefore ordered the school to remove the requirement from its admission arrangements.

Speaking to the FAC, a member of the local Jewish community commented, ‘As a prospective parent applying to the school, I was shocked to see that they thought it either appropriate or relevant to ask about adherence to these rules, not simply due to their extremely intimate nature, but also because they don’t affect anyone apart from husband and wife. That of course is not to mention the fact that it would be impossible for the Rabbi to verify it, even if he was minded to. I’m pleased the form will now have to change for future years.’

This is the second year in a row that Hasmonean has been referred to the Adjudicator, and last year it was found to be directly discriminating on the basis of race, and possibly gender, under the Equality Act 2010.

This most recent case is the latest in a long line of examples of religiously selective schools making unreasonable demands as part of their admission arrangements, including prioritising children on the basis of activities such as bell ringing and flower arranging and seeking a commitment from parents that there would be no TV or internet in the home. It also comes just a few weeks after the FAC, together with the British Humanist Association (BHA), published a report revealing that almost every religiously selective secondary school in England was breaching the School Admissions Code in a variety of ways. This included failing to give the correct priority to children in care, asking for parents’ countries of origin or if English was their second language and even discriminating on the basis of race and gender.

Commenting on the ruling, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Jonathan Romain, said ‘School should be about children and developing their education, not about parents and checking up on their religious observances. This case, along with numerous ones affecting church schools, highlights the pressing need to take faith criteria out of admissions procedures altogether. State school intakes should be open to all local children, irrespective of any religious practices that do or do not occur at home’.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Jay Harman on 020 7324 3078 or info@fairadmissions.org.uk.

Read the OSA’s full determination: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/466378/ADA2990_Hasmonean_High_School_Barnet_-_7_October_2015.pdf

Read the school’s admission documents: http://www.hasmonean.co.uk/information/admissions/

Read the FAC and BHA’s full report ‘An Unholy Mess: how virtually all religiously selective state schools in England are breaking the law’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/anunholymess/

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.

‘An Unholy Mess’: New report reveals ‘near-universal noncompliance’ with School Admissions Code among religiously selective state schools in England

As many as hundreds of thousands of children have been unlawfully denied access to religiously selective state schools in England, almost all of which are failing to comply with the School Admissions Code, a major new report has revealed today.

‘An Unholy Mess: how virtually all religiously selective state schools in England are breaking the law’ has been produced by the British Humanist Association (BHA) on behalf of the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC). It reveals ‘near-universal noncompliance’ with the School Admissions Code by religiously selective state secondary schools, which together with religiously selective primary schools account for well over a million state school places in England. The report details the rulings of the Schools Adjudicator on the admission arrangements of a sample of such schools, which found widespread violations of the Code in almost every case, confirming public concerns about the way in which religious selection is carried out in ‘faith’ schools.

The School Admissions Code sets out the rules that all state-funded schools in England must legally follow in setting their admission arrangements, and individuals are able to lodge objections with the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) if they believe a school has failed to comply.

In 2014 FAC did just that, lodging objections to the arrangements of a representative sample of nearly 50 religiously selective secondary schools. With rulings on all bar one of those objections now completed, the OSA identified well over a thousand Code breaches, with near-universal non-compliance amongst schools. The findings suggest that religiously selective secondary schools across England may be breaking the Admissions Code some 12,000 times between them. Given that 1.2 million school places in England are subject to religious selection criteria, the number of children who are unfairly losing out on places is significant.

The findings reinforce concerns previously raised by FAC, among others, regarding abuse of the admissions system by religiously selective schools, and point to the pressing need for reform. The report makes a series of recommendations to this effect, including calling for the Code to be revised in a number of areas, and for the establishment of an independent monitoring service to enforce better compliance. Ultimately, however, the report concludes that the system of religious selection must be abandoned altogether.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, said, ‘Over a million state school places in England are subject to religious selection and it’s well known that religious schools have been abusing the admissions system for some time. Even so, no one can have imagined the problem was as widespread as this report shows. Of course, it’s a scandal to begin with that these schools are able by law to discriminate against children on the grounds of their parents’ religious beliefs, but the fact that they’re seeking to find further ways to turn children away is disgraceful. Religious selection by state schools is the archaic practice that allows these abuses and must be brought to an end.’

Professor Ted Cantle, Chair of the Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo) Foundation and author of the Cantle Report into the 2001 race riots, added, ‘The system by which religious schools are able to set their own admissions criteria is clearly not fit for purpose. Not only does it require each school to be incredibly well-versed in the regulations in this area, it also gives cover, as this report illustrates, to those schools that wish to manipulate their intake and discriminate against individual or certain groups of children. This is clearly unacceptable and the system urgently needs to change in order to address it.’

Overview of findings

Particularly notable findings of the report include:

  • Almost one in five schools were found to require practical or financial support to associated organisations – through voluntary activities such as flower arranging and choir-singing in churches or in the case of two Jewish schools, in requiring membership of synagogues (which costs money).
  • Over a quarter of schools were found to be religiously selecting in ways not deemed acceptable even by their relevant religious authorities – something which the London Oratory School was also found guilty of earlier this year.
  • A number of schools were found to have broken the Equality Act 2010 in directly discriminating on the basis of race or gender, with concerns also raised around discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and socio-economic status.
  • A majority of schools were found not to be sufficiently prioritising looked after and previously looked after children (LAC and PLAC) – in most cases discriminating in unlawful ways against LAC and PLAC who were not of the faith of the school, and in a few rare cases not prioritising LAC and PLAC at all. A quarter of schools were also found to not be making clear how children with statements of special educational needs were admitted.
  • Almost 90% of schools were found to be asking for information from parents that they do not need. This included asking parents to declare their support for the ethos of the school and even asking for applicants’ countries of origin, whether or not they speak English as an additional language, and if they have any medical issues.
  • Nearly every school was found to have problems related to the clarity, fairness, and objectivity of their admissions arrangements. This included a lack of clarity about the required frequency of religious worship and asking a religious leader to sign a form confirming religious observance, but not specifying what kind of observance is required.

Notes

For further information, please contact Richy Thompson on 07815589636 or email info@fairadmissions.org.uk.

Read the full report: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/anunholymess/

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.

Faith schools and socio-economic selection: When comparing schools to their local areas on free school meal eligibility, are we looking too closely?

The Fair Admissions Campaign’s map rates every mainstream state secondary school in England based on how socio-economically inclusive it is. It does this by comparing the number of pupils in the school who are eligible for free school meals (FSM) to the number of pupils in the school’s local area who are eligible, and finding the difference. The results are clear. Religiously selective schools are socio-economically selective.

But critics often allege that the comparison it makes looks at too local an area for each school – particularly as religiously selective schools take from a wider geographical area than other schools do. Instead the Church of England prefers to make national comparisons between different groups of schools, where the differences are smaller because of the fact that religious schools tend to be in cities, which have greater concentrations of poorer families than the national average. Such national comparisons are clearly comparing schools across too wide a geographical area, as no school takes pupils from across the nation.

The Catholic Education Service (CES), meanwhile, would rather look at an alternative measure, the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI), which shows that Catholic schools take more pupils from the most deprived areas. However, a simple analysis shows that the schools themselves are even more likely still to be in the most deprived areas, so all the CES is showing (once again) is that Catholic schools are more likely to be in cities than other schools. They are not showing that their schools are inclusive but in fact highlighting figures that, when explored fully, demonstrate quite the opposite.

But does the initial charge stand – are we looking too closely with our map? That is a claim we can test, and so test it we have.

The answer is no, we are not.

The context: comparing each school to its local area

Below we re-present the figures from the FAC’s map:

Levels of zoom - local areas

How much more or less inclusive is each group of school than expected when the schools are compared to their local areas on the basis of free school meal eligibility?

So, to explain what the above table means: schools with no religious character take, on average, 5% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected, given their local area. Catholic schools take 28% fewer, Church of England schools take 15% fewer, Jewish schools take 63% fewer and Muslim schools take 29% fewer. Catholic, Jewish and Muslim schools are invariably 100% religiously selective, when oversubscribed, but in CofE schools this varies widely, so for comparison we also include the figure for 100% selective CofE schools, where we find they take 35% fewer.

(A few housekeeping notes: in this and the following tables we exclude grammar schools, University Technical Colleges and Studio schools, so that we do not have the peculiarities of their admissions policies confusing our comparisons based on religious selection. And what we mean by ‘local’ is that we are comparing each school to the pupils living in its middle super output area (MSOA, a local population cluster consisting of 5,000-15,000 people) and neighbouring MSOAs added until there are more pupils in the local area than in the school. This is explained in more detail in the ‘How are schools ranked on the basis of free school meal eligibility and English as an additional language?’ FAQ in the map.)

Zooming out: comparing each group of schools to wider and wider areas

What if we compare each school to wider areas, as the Churches would have us do? Let’s start with the local authority in which each school resides:

Levels of zoom - LAs

How much more or less inclusive is each group of school than expected when the schools are compared to their local authorities on the basis of free school meal eligibility?

Here we see that Church of England schools, as a whole, are looking a bit more inclusive, as are Muslim schools, but they still fall short of being representative of their area. And for Catholic and 100% selective CofE schools there has been no change, while Jewish schools have actually got less inclusive.

Is this still too close though? What if we compare each school to all the pupils living in its local authority and all neighbouring local authorities?

Levels of zoom - neighbouring LAs

How much more or less inclusive is each group of school than expected when the schools are compared to their local authorities and neighbouring local authorities on the basis of free school meal eligibility?

Now Catholic schools have got a little more inclusive but not by very much. Jewish schools have got less inclusive still. Muslim schools have got a lot more inclusive. This perhaps reflects the fact that all nine Muslim secondaries are in northern or Midlands cities, where the cities themselves are a lot more deprived than the surrounding countryside. But at any rate, by this point we would argue that we are definitely looking at too wide a geographic area compared to schools’ intake areas.

Even so, what if we then compare each school to their regions as a whole?

Levels of zoom - regions

How much more or less inclusive is each group of school than expected when the schools are compared to their regions on the basis of free school meal eligibility?

We see little change from the chart as above. No-one could argue that schools take from across an entire region (unless they are the London Oratory and Greater London). And yet Catholic, CofE and Jewish schools remain highly uninclusive.

Thus the falsehood of the churches’ defence is demonstrated.

Finally, for completeness, we compare each school to the country as a whole:

Levels of zoom - nation

How much more or less inclusive is each group of school than expected when the schools are compared to the national as a whole on the basis of free school meal eligibility?

Only here do we see Catholic schools starting to look more inclusive – but still far from fully inclusive. 100% selective CofE and Jewish schools remain decidedly exclusive. But it doesn’t matter. Because schools don’t take pupils from across the country as a whole and to claim that they do is misleading.