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.

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.

Religiously selective schools that shun poorer pupils celebrated on DfE award shortlist

The Department for Education (DfE) has named three religiously selective schools on its shortlist of schools that are in the running for this year’s Pupil Premium Award, despite the fact that all three they take far fewer children eligible for free school meals than they should given the local area they are situated in. The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) has criticised the shortlist and highlighted once again the appalling record of religiously selective schools in serving poorer families in their communities.

The pupil premium was introduced in 2011 to provide additional funding to state-funded schools so as to improve the attainment of pupils from poorer backgrounds, and the awards were set up to celebrate schools that make best use of this funding to ‘help disadvantaged young people reach their potential’. However, they only take into account the performance of the pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who are in attendance at the school, and not the number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds that the school actually admits. Therefore a school could be highly socio-economically selective and still perform strongly.

In line with figures produced by the FAC showing that religiously selective schools are, across the country as a whole, overwhelmingly less inclusive of children from poorer backgrounds than schools that don’t religiously select, the three religiously selective secondary schools on the shortlist were found to take an average of 12 percentage points fewer children eligible for free school meals (FSM) than would be representative of their local area. This compares to the broadly representative figures for the schools on the list that don’t religiously select, which on average actually take 2 per cent more children eligible for FSM than are in their area.

School name Religious selection School FSM eligibility Local area FSM eligibility Percentage difference
La Retraite RC Girls’ School All places 13.6% 32.09% -18.49%
Ripley St Thomas CofE Academy All places 4% 13.38% -9.38%
St Wilfrid’s RC College All places 13.9% 22.38% -8.48%
Healing Science Academy None 5.9% 8.22% -2.32%
Great Torrington School None 10.1% 10.28% -0.18%
Caroline Chisholm School None 3.1% 3.86% -0.85%
Maiden Erlegh School None 4.4% 4.30% +0.1%
St Albans Girls’ School None 6.9% 3.96% +2.94%
Selly Park None 38.9% 25.23% +13.7%

Richy Thompson of the British Humanist Association commented, ‘It’s amazing that out of all the schools in the country, the Department for Education has chosen to praise three religiously selective schools for the support they give to disadvantaged pupils, while ignoring the fact that all three of them take far fewer children from disadvantaged backgrounds than they should given the areas they’re in.

‘The Government urgently needs to review the criteria by which the Pupil Premium Awards are judged, and we can only hope that shortlisting these schools will not serve to disincentivise other schools from taking steps to become more inclusive in the future.’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Chair of the Accord Coalition, commented, ‘It is now well-documented that religious selection almost always acts a proxy for socio-economic selection, so it is astonishing that these three schools are on this shortlist. The Government should be encouraging schools that demonstrate inclusivity, rather than legitimising discrimination. This award has become a wasted opportunity to do that.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Jay Harman on 0207 324 3078 or info@fairadmissions.org.uk.

See the FAC’s map showing religious and socio-economic selection in English secondary schools: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map/

Read the FAC’s news item ‘Groundbreaking new research maps the segregating impact of faith school admissions’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/groundbreaking-new-research-maps-the-segregating-impact-of-faith-school-admissions/

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.

Sutton Trust report urges limits to religious selection in faith school admissions to help the disadvantaged

A new study commissioned by the education charity, The Sutton Trust, has called for religiously selective faith schools to make places available to local children without recourse to faith after finding that such schools are much more likely to be socio-economically exclusive.

The investigation – conducted by Dr Rebecca Allen and Dr Meenakshi Parameshwaran of the research body Education Datalab – compared the profile of pupils attending all primary schools in England with that of primary school aged children that lived locally to all the schools. It found a strong correlation between popular and highly rated schools having intakes that were socio-economically exclusive and unrepresentative of their local area. It found that these schools tended to operate more complex pupil admission criteria, and were very often religiously selective faith schools.

The academics found a significant difference in the pupil profile of faith schools that operated a religiously selective over-subscription policy with those that did not, echoing other findings showing that religious selection invariably leads to social exclusion. The report noted:

‘It is generally true that non-religious schools are not particularly socially selective and that Roman Catholic and other religious primary schools are, regardless of governance status. This reflects the fact that these religious schools consistently apply religious admission criteria. The pattern of social selection in Church of England primary schools is quite different, reflecting the variety of stances towards religious selection that dioceses have taken. They are far less likely to be socially selective than other schools with a religious denomination because many (particularly voluntary controlled) act as defacto community schools and do not apply any religious criteria.’

In addition to recommending that faith schools reserve places for local children, the report urged that the ability of groups and individuals to raise objections about school admission arrangements with the Office of the School Adjudicator (OSA) should not be constrained. In January the Government announced it would be changing rules to prevent groups like the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) from highlighting with the OSA abuses and errors in faith school admission arrangements.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education and FAC Steering Group member, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘The evidence base provides an overwhelming case that religious selection is a major source of socio-economic exclusion. It is highly embarrassing that many faith schools, which should be skewed towards serving the disadvantaged, are in fact conferring privilege to children of the affluent.’

‘Faith schools that do not select by faith show well how faith schools do not need to select in this way to uphold a religious ethos and how they can better avoid social exclusion. As a matter of priority, the current rule that limits religious selection at faith free schools to 50% of places should be expanded to all state funded faith schools, to help ensure the schools find a better balance between those they serve.’

The report’s findings echo those of a detailed study conducted by the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) in 2013 which looked at all secondary schools in England. The FAC found that whereas non-faith secondary schools admitted on average 5% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected if the schools admitted local children, non-religiously selective faith schools typically admitted 1% fewer such children. Faith schools that had a religiously selective admission policy however typically admitted 30% fewer than would be expected if they admitted local children. Entitlement to free school meals is a key indicator of deprivation used by government.

 

Notes

Abuse of faith school admissions leads to socio-economic bias
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%. When it is considered that faith schools only educate a quarter of pupils at state funded schools in England and Wales, these findings suggest that a great many faith school places are 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’.

Priority for school places on basis of parents helping with ‘flower arranging’ and ‘cleaning’ at church finally eradicated from ’faith’ school admissions policies after success of Fair Admissions Campaign and BHA

On secondary national offer day, and in the week by which schools must have determined their admission arrangements for 2017, the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) and British Humanist Association (BHA) have announced that, as a result of their successful campaigning, priority previously given in state schools’ admission policies to children whose parents help with ‘flower arranging’, ‘cleaning’, or ‘maintenance’ at church has now been fully eradicated from all schools in England.

The FAC has repeatedly forced schools to drop these criteria over the last few years by submitting objections to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA). An objection to the admission arrangements of the last known school to prioritise children in this way, Emmaus Church of England and Catholic School in Liverpool, was upheld by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) late last year. In addition, the BHA has learnt that the London Oratory School has chosen to withdraw its appeal to a High Court judgement ruling against the school in April last year, meaning that no child will now be subject to ‘selection by flower arranging’.

Priority given to parents on the basis of church activities, which can also include choir singing, has proved consistently controversial, primarily due to the key role it is seen to play in driving the socio-economic bias inherent to religious selection, given that more affluent parents are often better able to support the church in the ways suggested by schools than are families from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Research has previously revealed that the London Oratory is one of the most socio-economically selective state secondary schools in the country, with just 6% of their pupils eligible for free school meals despite the fact that the average eligibility in the local area sits at 36%. The long-running legal dispute over the admission arrangements employed by the school finally came to an end over two and a half years after the BHA first objected to the arrangements. In 2014 the OSA found that the school’s admission policy was unlawful in more than 100 different ways, and the judgement in the High Court in April left the vast majority of the OSA’s findings upheld.

Regrettably, the Oratory is by no means the only school that has been failing to comply with the School Admissions Code to this extent. A report published by the FAC and BHA last year revealed that non-compliance was ‘near-universal’ among religiously selective schools, with violations ranging from not properly prioritising looked after and previously looked after children to directly discriminating on the basis of race and gender.

At the end of last month, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced that she will seek to ban civil society organisations from objecting to the admission arrangements of schools in the future, a move which she described as an attempt to ‘stop vexatious complaints against faith schools by secularist campaign groups’, but which has been strongly opposed by the FAC, parliamentarians, and the public alike.

Jay Harman from the FAC said, ‘The fact that flower arranging, cleaning, and maintenance no longer appear in any state schools’ admission arrangements demonstrates the value of national campaign groups being able to object to schools’ admissions policies, where they do not comply with the law. The fact that Nicky Morgan is proposing to ban national groups from lodging any further objections is clearly against the interest of parents and children as it is only through our objections that these practices have been stamped out.’

With respect to the Oratory, Mr Harman added, ‘The Oratory’s decision to withdraw its appeal represents the end of a two and a half year battle, and we’re relieved that the dispute can now be put to bed. It may just be one school, but this case has come to be symbolic of the wider struggle to challenge religious discrimination in our schools, and the result is therefore an incredibly significant one.

‘Of course, as long as schools remain free to employ faith-based selection of any kind, religious, racial, and socio-economic segregation will continue to be a significant feature of our education system, and this is something that needs to be addressed now more than ever. For our part we will continue to campaign against this discrimination, and in favour of an education system that is inclusive, fair, and which contributes positively to social cohesion, rather than detracts from it.’

Notes

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

Read the FAC and BHA’s report ‘An Unholy Mess: How virtually all religiously selective state schools in England are breaking the law’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/An-Unholy-Mess.pdf

Background to the London Oratory’s admission arrangements

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 this, and in November 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.

However, in October the School applied to judicially review the decision on nine grounds, including the findings of socio-economic discrimination, of taking account of religious activities not permitted by the school’s Diocese, and of taking into account the religious practice of both parents instead of just one. The judgement, handed down in April this year, overturned some of the OSA’s findings but left the vast majority of the adjudicator’s findings upheld, and after further submissions were requested by the judge, the OSA confirmed that even more of the changes to the school’s policy ordered last year would stand – including the removal of the ‘Catholic service criterion’.

Since first submitting this complaint, the BHA has helped found the Fair Admissions Campaign. ‘The 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.’

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.

Department for Education acknowledges 87% of objections to school admissions labelled ‘vexatious’ by Education Secretary were upheld by adjudicator

In response to a parliamentary question tabled in the House of Lords, the Department for Education (DfE) has at last conceded that the overwhelming majority of objections submitted to school admission policies by the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) and British Humanist Association (BHA) correctly identified breaches of the law. The DfE recently moved to ban civil society organisations from formally raising concerns about the admission arrangements of schools largely in response to a report published by the FAC and BHA revealing that virtually all religious selective schools in England are breaking the law, and went as far as describing the objections submitted by the BHA and FAC as ‘vexatious’. Despite this, in his response to the question tabled by Baroness Meacher, the Schools Minister Lord Nash acknowledged that ‘since 2012, 87% of all objections submitted to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) by secularist campaign groups were upheld or partially upheld’.

The FAC, which maintains that its role has always been to represents and support parents in their efforts to navigate the admissions system, has once again called on the Government to urgently reconsider its proposal before a consultation on the Code is launched later this year.

In addition to the answer given by Lord Nash in the House of Lords, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has also acknowledged the important role played by the FAC in improving the school admissions system for parents. Responding to a letter written by BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson opposing the ban, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said ‘I am grateful for the work that you and your colleagues on the Fair Admissions Campaign have put into highlighting examples of non-compliance with the School Admissions Code’, also writing that she is aware of the support that the BHA has given in the past to parents who have concerns about the admission arrangements of their local schools.

The comments appear to be at odds with the DfE’s description of the objections submitted by the FAC as ‘vexatious’ just a few weeks ago, and lend support to the increasing opposition to the proposed ban expressed by parliamentarians, other organisations such as Mumsnet and the Institute for Community Cohesion Foundation, and the wider public.  Indeed, the 87% figure cited by the Government refers to the number of individual objections submitted by the FAC since 2012 that have been upheld, not the number of cases. The proportion of schools in which at least one violation of the Code was correctly identified is even higher, standing at 96%.

BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘In light of the Government’s recognition of the important role that we have played in identifying schools that are failing to comply with the School Admissions Code, both the characterisation of this role as “vexatious” and the wider move to ban us from performing it in the future is ill-conceived.

‘To be clear, the investigation we carried out looked only at a representative sample of religiously selective schools in England, and whilst the admission arrangements in all of those schools have now improved as a result of our work, the problems we highlighted continue to be prominent and concerning features of the system as a whole. Given that these problems directly result in parents and children being denied fair access to their local schools, we hope the Government will drop its proposed ban and we will certainly continue to encourage them to do that as part of our wider campaign against religious discrimination in school admissions.’

Notes

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

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.