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.

New poll shows more parents than ever lying about faith to manipulate school admissions process

A new poll commissioned for ITV’s ‘Tonight’ programme has revealed the shocking extent to which parents are lying about their religion in order to get their children into the local ‘faith’ school. The findings, drawn from interviews with 1,000 primary school parents, indicate that manipulation of faith-based admissions policies is far more widespread than was previously thought. The Fair Admissions Campaign is again calling on schools to scrap their discriminatory admissions arrangements so parents no longer have to lie about their beliefs.

The key findings were as follows:

  • 36.3% said they had or would be willing to feign religion if it meant getting their child into a good school
  • 12.6% admitted to having practised a faith in which they did not believe
  • 13.7% said they had their child baptised purely to secure a school place
  • 11.1% said they had lied about their child being baptised

The figures, produced by OnePoll, were first presented on last night’s ITV ‘Tonight’ programme, called ‘How to Get into a Good School’.

The last survey to present findings of this kind, conducted by YouGov in November 2012, showed that 6% of parents had attended church to gain their child a place at a ‘faith’ school, but this latest poll suggests the practice is far more common that was previously thought.

Putting these figures into context, it is estimated that only around 4-5% of the parent age population in England currently attend church every week.

Commenting on the figures, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said, ‘This poll is a game-changer, replacing the many anecdotal stories with hard evidence of widespread cheating. Rather than blame parents, we should blame the system that allows tax-payer funded schools to have admission procedures that discriminate on religious grounds. The survey will appal all those who value faith and find that it is being used to cheat one’s way into a school place.’

Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal said ‘”Faith” schools have long tried to justify their discriminatory admissions policies by claiming they are essential to upholding the ethos of the school. These findings make a mockery of that. I would urge all schools to fully open themselves up so that parents are no longer forced to lie in order to get their child a place’.

Notes

For further information, please contact Jay Harman on 020 7324 3078 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.

Church of England school in Kingston to scrap discriminatory admissions policy

A Church of England school in Kingston upon Thames has decided that it will no longer select pupils on the grounds of faith. As of next year, St Luke’s Primary School will prioritise children based on their proximity to the school and not on the church attendance of their parents as was previously the case. The Fair Admissions Campaign has welcomed the move and hopes it will set a precedent for other ‘faith’ schools to follow.

 The change in policy was initiated by local vicar Father Martin Hislop, who described himself as being ‘very uncomfortable with aspects of the admissions criteria for the school’. He claimed that cynicism surrounding the requirement to attend church was having a negative impact on the atmosphere at the school, and bemoaned the fact that ‘some parishioners feel that there are those who attend church only to gain admission for their children’.

Attending church specifically to gain a place at a popular Church school has been the subject of much discussion in the media in recent weeks and this move comes in the midst of growing calls for an end to faith-based selection in schools. Indeed, only earlier this month 20 members of the Church of England issued an open letter urging the Church to encourage all its schools to move towards inclusive admissions arrangements. It also seems that St Luke’s is not the only school looking into such a change, as there are reports that similar proposals have been made by Gonerby Hill Foot Church of England Primary School in Lincolnshire.

St Luke’s’ decision, made in consultation with both the Diocese of Southwark and the local community, has long been called for by the Kingston Fair Admissions group who campaign in favour of more inclusive schools in the area. Guy Shirley, one of the group’s co-ordinators, described the change as ‘good for the community as a whole’ and called on the other local religiously-selective schools to ‘follow the path that St Luke’s has paved’.

Commenting on the move, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Jonathan Romain, said, ‘The inclusive policy being adopted by St Luke’s is a welcome development that addresses the growing concern about religious discrimination in the educational system. Hopefully it will show that it is possible to have a religious ethos without religious segregation’.

BHA Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson added, ‘This is a really positive step towards ending the unfair practice of selecting children on the basis of their parent’s religion and we hope schools around the country will take note. Discrimination of this kind divides communities and has absolutely no place in our society’.

Notes

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

Read the proposed changes to St Luke’s Primary School’s admissions policy here: http://www.stlukes.kingston.sch.uk/news/?pid=3&nid=2&storyid=34

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.

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.