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

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

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

Faith schools criticised for complexity of school admissions policies

Update: Also out today is a survey from Netmums of their members which found that ‘To get their children into popular faith schools, 12.5 per cent had attended a church or place of worship near the school, while 1.4 per cent admitted to attending a church or place of worship of a different faith to their own.’ Just 4-5 per cent of the parent age population attends Church weekly, so if this survey is accurate then it suggests that there must be big spikes in attendance when parents have children aged 2-4 and again at about 9-11, with much lower attendance otherwise.

Original story: A new report published today by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) has criticised the complex admissions requirements used by many religiously selective schools and called for further clarification from the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) on what is and is not permitted. The Fair Admissions Campaign, which has published research demonstrating the extent to which religious selection causes socio-economic segregation, has welcomed the report and its findings.

“It might be best if you looked elsewhere”: An investigation into the schools admission process took the current School Admissions Code (which permits religious selection) as a given but nonetheless examines areas in which faith-based selection leads to breaches of the School Admissions Code.

The report looks through recent decisions made against schools by the OSA and found two main areas where schools are being caught breaking the Code. The first is ‘The use of complex “points” systems by some admissions authorities for admissions. These are usually used by faith schools. These reward parents for carrying out work in a church or other place of worship. While the use of criteria relating to religious observance is lawful for gaining admission to a school of the faith concerned, criteria related to providing practical support to a place of worship are not. However, it is not always clear which category a particular criterion or activity used by a school falls into. Guidance on this should be provided by faith authorities (such as the local diocese.) However, this guidance is at times silent on the criteria used by local schools, and the potential for confusion, or for parents being put off from applying, therefore continues.’ The second is in giving priority to children attending nurseries.

As a consequence, the first recommendation made by the report is that ‘The Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) issue further clarification on the difference between criteria based on “religious observance”, which are lawful, and those based on “non-religious service”, which are not. OSA should seek consensus from faith bodies on the differences between these criteria, drawing on existing good practice in faith schools in England. Using the latter criteria could be viewed as amounting to charging a fee to apply to the school, albeit “in kind” rather than in cash. OSA should seek consensus from faith bodies on the differences between these sets of criteria, drawing on existing good practice already in existence in many faith schools in England, and should ensure its guidance aids those schools’ practices to remain within the statutory admissions code.

The report also calls for:

  • ‘Further large-scale, qualitative research is required to enable all concerned to understand the specific nature and scale of inequality in admissions outcomes, and to report on the reasons for this. This should be a priority for the Department for Education’s future programme of commissioned research.’
  • Schools to particularly consider whether their admissions policies and behaviour might break the Public Sector Equality Duty.
  • ‘As part of their work in co-ordinating admissions, local authorities should be given powers to collect anonymised demographic information on the characteristics of children applying for a place at the state funded schools across their areas, alongside data on places offered and accepted.’ The Fair Admissions Campaign has also been calling for data of this nature to be collected and published by central Government or local authorities.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘Many expect the faith school sector to be setting examples for others to follow, so it is all the more disturbing that religiously selective schools should be associated with discriminatory, socially exclusive and improper practices. We urge the Government to implement the report’s recommendations and produce guidance that sets out more clearly the types of faith based admissions criteria that are not permissible under the School Admissions Code. The Department for Education also needs to carry out research into the wider scale of inequality in admissions outcomes and the reasons for them.’

Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association, commented, ‘It is simply unacceptable that many schools cream off the “more attractive” pupils (as the report puts it) to the detriment of those from more deprived backgrounds, who do not speak English as a first language, or who have special educational needs. While taking as read the current allowance of faith-based admissions, this report nonetheless finds that faith-based admissions in particular often lead to complex points-based admissions systems which in turn causes socio-economic and ethnic segregation. The report correctly concludes that while faith-based selection continues, more needs to be done to clarify exactly what is and is not permissible. We will be urging the Government to take action and ensure this report’s recommendations become reality.’

Notes

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

Read the OCC’s press release: http://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/content/press_release/content_538

Read the report: http://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/force_download.php?fp=%2Fclient_assets%2Fcp%2Fpublication%2F798%2FIt_might_be_best_if_you_looked_elsewhere.pdf

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.

How religiously selective schools have been found to break the Admissions Code

The Fair Admissions Campaign is today publishing a comprehensive summary of the all the complaints made to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator about ‘faith’ schools since the introduction of the 2012 Schools Admissions Code. The new piece of research highlights numerous religious schools that adopted unlawful admissions arrangements in breach of legislation and the Code.

Some of the 75 cases identified saw schools resorting to drastic measures to reinforce their religious exclusiveness. For example, one Catholic school that could not find enough Catholic students to fill all its places attempted to lower their Published Admissions Number in order to exclude non-Catholic students who were entitled to a place. Several schools used religious selection criteria that prioritised those children whose parents contributed to the church through voluntary activities such as bell ringing, flower arranging, coffee rotas and church maintenance. Such, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) found, amounted to requiring parents to give practical support to the Church, which is not allowed. Many other schools were guilty of providing parents with misleading, confusing or unclear admissions policies, or asking for unnecessary information that could lead to socio-economic selection.

Recently the Fair Admissions Campaign examined the admissions policy of every religious secondary school in England and found widespread code breaches will form the basis of a forthcoming series of complaints to the OSA.

Professor Ted Cantle CBE of the iCoCo Foundation commented, ‘This piece of research presents very disturbing evidence of widespread manipulation of admissions with the consequence of unfairly excluding children on the basis of faith and non-faith. I am continually shocked by the way that religiously selective schools – which we might have expected to trust – are found to be cheating the system.’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, Chair of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education, commented, ‘It is hard to know what is worse: that those entrusted with educating the next generation have been found guilty of breaches of trust, or that many of them have been faith schools who have broken their own self-proclaimed moral standards.’

Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association, commented, ‘This research highlights numerous cases where faith schools that are already able legally to discriminate against applicants on the basis of parental religion have pushed the boundaries further and found themselves in breach of the Admissions Code. Every complaint that is upheld represents families and children suffering religious discrimination in school admissions, with some schools employing ever more creative strategies that skirt the law. We do not think that any school should be allowed to religiously select in admissions: it is unfair and the evidence shows that it often causes socio-economic and ethnic as well as religious segregation.’

Notes

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

Read the overview: http://cdn2.fairadmissions.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Summary-of-faith-school-OSA-decisions-under-the-2012-Admissions-Code.pdf

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.

Blog: Catholic Church’s opposition to Free Schools’ 50% faith-based admissions cap is motivated by desire for control

Recently the Catholic Education Service (CES), Catholic Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales and various Catholic dioceses have been voicing their opposition to the fact that Free Schools are not allowed to select more than 50% of pupils with reference to faith. This has extended to the Archdiocese of Liverpool last week telling a private Catholic school that it could not become a Free School because ‘It would be extraordinary, if not contrary to Canon Law… to set up a school or allow a school designated as Catholic to be set up, which turned away Catholic pupils on the grounds that they are Catholic.’ Here we explore why the Church is opposed to such a cap.

First of all, any opposition is inconsistent with the fact that two Catholic Free Schools, St Michael’s Catholic Secondary School in Cornwall and St Anthony’s School in Gloucestershire, have already opened, and a third, Trinity Academy in Lambeth, has support from the Government to open this September. Both St Michael’s and St Anthony’s were private schools prior to becoming Free Schools. Trinity Academy, however, is a brand new school, and in fact is proposing to select no pupils at all on the basis of faith. In addition, the Fair Admissions Campaign’s own research suggests that many private Catholic schools do not have admissions policies that religiously select all or perhaps any of their pupils on the basis of faith – suggesting that much more care is taken to ensure such selection is occurring when the taxpayer is paying for the places.

Now St Mary’s College in Crosby, Sefton (a local authority where a third of both primary and secondary places are already Catholic, compared to 10% nationally), is proposing to also convert from being a private school to a Free School. The Independent reports that ‘The school believes the move will bring it back into line with the pledge by its founding fathers – the Congregation of Christian Brothers – to provide an education for the poor children of Liverpool.’ The head teacher is quoted as saying, ‘Being a Free School would enable children from disadvantaged backgrounds to come to the school. It seems strange that the Catholic Church would want to stop that. It is frustrating.’

Some opponents of the 50% cap also like to point out that 30% of pupils attending state Catholic schools do not identify as Catholic, therefore claiming that a certain level of inclusivity is already the case. However, almost all of this 30% reflects the fact that some Catholic schools are not oversubscribed with Catholics. Others are, and therefore will admit no non-Catholics at all. If those citing this statistic truly wanted to see every school having 30% of pupils being non-Catholic, then they would support a religious selection limit of about 50% – as after all, some of the 50% of places not selected by reference to faith will probably end up going to Catholics anyway.

So what motivates the opposition to the cap? It cannot be concern about a lack of places at Catholic schools for children of Catholics – as if the Catholic Church had supported the Free Schools programme, there would probably be more Catholic Free Schools by now and hence a greater number of places reserved for Catholics than there are. also already has a It also cannot be a desire for every place at a Catholic school to be held by a Catholic, on the basis of maintaining the Catholicity of the environment – or else we would see the Catholic Church also campaigning against its state schools having to admit children of non-Catholics if not sufficiently oversubscribed with Catholics, and for its private schools to have religiously stricter admissions policies than they do at the moment. (In fact, in its policy document, the CES quotes the Archbishop of Westminster as saying that ‘others who seek a place at the school are most welcome as long as space permits. They are fully part of the school community and greatly treasured.’)

Appeals to Canon Law also fall flat when one realises that the situation in England and Wales is out of step other developed countries; only the Republic of Ireland, some provinces of Canada, and (for a few private schools getting state funding) Germany, allow state Catholic schools to select in this way. In Scotland there are also state Catholic schools but there is no religious selection at all. The schools are not in charge of their admissions policies (that is the local authority) and there are no complaints being made by the Catholic Church in Scotland about this.

Instead, the issue appears to simply be one of who has control over the schools’ admissions policies. Indeed, a statement last November by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference said simply that ‘the conditions required to ensure a distinctive Catholic education remain the ownership of the school or college site, the appointment of the majority of governors, admissions arrangements, the RE curriculum and its inspection, worship, and the employment of staff. Accordingly, the Bishops’ Conference takes the view that the imposition of a 50% cap on the control of admissions is not a secure basis for the provision of a Catholic school and urges dioceses to resist any pressure to establish a school on that basis.’

Such a justification is patently absurd as it does not consider as reasonable the view that there might be a need for compromise when state funding is involved. Instead it assumes that there should be an absolute right over admissions to state schools, regardless of the implications in terms of religious, ethnic and socio-economic segregation, and whether the state or the wider public have concerns as a consequence. The Government has been robust in rejecting those calling for the cap to be lifted. We hope that this continues.

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.

New Church research shows growth is strongest where there are oversubscribed schools

In new research published as part of the Church of England’s Church Growth Research Programme, academics have found that Church growth is strongest in areas in which it has oversubscribed, religiously selective schools. The research confirms that many people attend Church simply to get their children into certain schools. The Fair Admissions Campaign has called for Church schools to stop religiously discriminating in admissions.

The research was conducted for the Church of England in order to identify what successfully causes churches to grow, so that this knowledge can be used to stimulate further growth elsewhere. Academics carried out ‘a purpose-built survey of growing, stable and declining churches across all dioceses’. One of the questions asked was ‘Is this church linked to a Church of England school? [If yes] Is it over-subscribed?’ Analysing the results, the academics write that ‘The results for church growth are interesting. Here the Church school has a key role… The most direct impact on attendance may be felt in areas where a popular C of E school is over-subscribed. Some churchgoing is clearly motivated by a desire to qualify for school admission, but the boost to attendance may last into the longer term if families decide to stay.’ This was found to be statistically significant; the academics concluded that ‘Middle class suburbs with church schools… offer great opportunities [for growth].’

Elsewhere it is written that ‘Being connected with an over-subscribed school is helpful, if not easy to engineer!’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chair of the Accord Coalition, commented, ‘Schools should be for the benefit of the children attending, not recruiting centres for places of worship. The suggested use of state-funded faith schools as a strategy for church growth highlights the need to reform the way they operate, so that they serve their local community, not vested interests.’

Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association, added, ‘This evidence clearly demonstrates that religious selection in school admissions is leading parents to attend Church when they otherwise wouldn’t. It is not the place of the state to support religious groups by allowing fully state funded schools to have admissions criteria that inflate religious attendance figures. Instead, all state funded schools should be open to all pupils, regardless of religion or belief.’

Notes

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

Read the previous Fair Admissions Campaign comment from January, ‘Church baptisms move away from birth and towards school admission deadlines’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/church-baptisms-move-away-from-birth-and-towards-school-admission-deadlines/

Read Accord and the BHA’s comments in December on Sutton Trust research that reached similar conclusions:

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.

Toby Young attacks parent-led Hammersmith and Fulham Fair Admissions Campaign

Toby Young has today written a piece in The Spectator attacking the newly formed Fair Admissions in Hammersmith & Fulham parent group. Here is our and parent Emily Wood’s response to Mr Young, interspersed with his original article…

An email popped into my inbox on Tuesday morning urging me to join a ‘fair admissions campaign’ that’s been launched by a couple of mums in Shepherd’s Bush. Their children are at a local primary school and they’re angry that they won’t be able to get them into any of the local faith schools. ‘Two of our children are in Year Five and we feel offended by the fact that out of 11 secondary schools in the borough almost half will put them at the very bottom of the waiting list due to our “wrong” beliefs,’ they write.

Now, I’m probably among the dozen or so local residents least likely to join this campaign but, to be fair, I don’t think they singled me out. Rather, they sent the same email to hundreds of people, hoping to cash in on the fact that Tuesday was ‘National Offer Day’, the day when parents who’ve applied to state secondaries learn their children’s fate.

I have some sympathy for these women. One of the reasons I helped set up the West London Free School is because I, too, was unhappy about the quality of education being offered by the local secular comprehensives. But that was five years ago. There are three new secondary schools in the borough now — two of them free schools — and the old ones have got better. For instance, the percentage of children getting five A–Cs in their GCSEs including English and maths at Fulham Cross Girls’ School was 48 per cent in 2008, compared to 69 per cent in 2013. The gap in quality between local comprehensives and local faith schools is closing.

As a matter of fact, the religiously selective secondary schools in Hammersmith and Fulham all outperform the schools that do not select, recording between 77% and 91% achieving 5 A*-Cs (average 84%) including English and maths at GCSE, compared with between 38% and 70% for the other schools (average 53%). Mr Young has cherry-picked Fulham Cross as the best performing school with no religious character but even this doesn’t perform as well as the worst-performing religiously selective school.

Furthermore, the degree to which the religiously selective schools in Hammersmith and Fulham cause socio-economic selection is huge. The Fair Admissions Campaign’s map records that the London Oratory School, the boys’ Catholic secondary, only admits 7% of pupils who are eligible for free school meals, compared with 36% of pupils locally. This makes it the ninth most socio-economically selective secondary school in the country and the worst in London, and is almost certainly a consequence of the school’s hugely complex admissions criteria, requiring weekly Church attendance by parent and child for three years, baptism within six months, first communion, and finally, practical support to the Church through three years of participation in activities such as flower arranging. If it weren’t oversubscribed with Catholics, it would then admit Orthodox Christians, followed by Anglicans, then other Christians, then those of other faiths, and finally those of no faith. The British Humanist Association is involved in an ongoing, high profile battle with the school over this after it complained to the Schools Adjudicator that this and many other aspects break the Admissions Code, with the prospect of judicial review by the school very much on the agenda.

The girls’ Catholic secondary, Sacred Heart School, isn’t much better. It takes 6% of pupils eligible for free school meals, compared with 33% locally. This makes it the sixteenth most socio-economically selective school nationally. It also religiously selects every pupil, having twelve different categories of Catholic. It requires four years of weekly Church attendance by parent and child and baptism within six months, as well as having the same pecking order of other faiths. Its admissions policy also likely breaks the Admissions Code, in prioritising pupils from unnamed feeder schools.

Lady Margaret School, the girls’ Church of England secondary, is also highly discriminatory. It takes 10% of pupils eligible for free school meals, compared with 36% locally. This ranks it number 19 on the Fair Admissions Campaign’s list. For the 56% of places religiously selected, it requires fortnightly church attendance for three years, and also likely breaks the School Admissions Code in prioritising pupils from unnamed feeder schools. The school also uses banding, which, when done by isolated schools in this manner, can also lead to socio-economic selection.

On top of all this is Fulham Boys School, a new CofE secondary school opening this September. As it is a Free School it is limited to selecting half of its pupils on the basis of faith – although this remains 50% more than the Diocese of London wants to see. How socio-economically inclusive the school turns out to be remains to be seen.

The last religious school currently open is Burlington Danes Academy, a mixed sex CofE school. It only religiously selects 25% of places, and as a consequence is actually more socio-economically inclusive than its area: 46% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, compared to 39% locally.

Overall, however, this means that the socio-economic segregation between the religiously selective schools in Hammersmith & Fulham and the rest is a staggering 27 percentage points – almost double the national average of 15% of pupils eligible for free school meals. This means that by some distance, Hammersmith & Fulham is the local authority where religious selection has the biggest impact socio-economically.

However, I’m afraid that’s where my sympathy ends. What parents who complain about being excluded from faith schools don’t understand is that the reason they’re above average — which is why they want to send their children to them in the first place — is precisely because of their religious ethos. To a great extent, that ethos depends upon being able to reserve a majority of their places for children of a particular faith. It follows that if the schools in question adopted a ‘fair’ admissions policy, i.e. admitted children of all faiths and none, they’d lose their distinctive ethos and become more bog standard. In effect, if the faith schools did what these mothers are asking and adopted ‘fair’ admission arrangements, they wouldn’t want to send their children to them.

As a matter of fact, in 2009 the House of Commons Research Library concluded that any difference in academic performance between faith schools and other schools is solely due to the different intakes of each school, which, it said, is ‘due to parental self-selection and selection methods used by some faith schools.’ This conclusion has been reinforced since by Steve Gibbons and Olmo Silva whose 2011 paper ‘Faith Primary Schools: Better Schools or Better Pupils?’ found that ‘pupils progress faster in Faith primary schools, but all of this advantage is explained by sorting into Faith schools according to preexisting characteristics and preferences.’ Even the Christian think tank Theos, in their recent report More than an Educated Guess: Assessing the evidence on faith schools concluded that ‘The research seems to support the claim that students in faith schools, generally do fare better academically than their counterparts in non-faith schools. At the moment, the body of evidence appears to suggest this is probably primarily the outcome of selection processes.’

As for ethos, it’s quite clear that schools can have a strong religious ethos without religiously selecting any pupils. Many Church of England schools don’t select any pupils, and yet still retain their ethos. The Diocese of London is in fact encouraging all its new schools to be fully open, telling The Telegraph last year that open admissions are not at all diluted in their ethos: ‘Their Christian values are written through them like a stick of rock’.

So the argument made by Mr Young that religious schools do better due to their ethos and this ethos is only possible through religious selection is wrong on both counts.

But, of course, the arrangements aren’t in the least bit unfair. The two mums who have started this campaign claim the reason it’s wrong for faith schools to discriminate in this way is because they’re funded by the state and, as such, shouldn’t prioritise the children of some taxpayers over others. But it’s inevitable that all state schools will discriminate in favour of some taxpayers. Generally speaking, secular schools prioritise those children who live closest to their gates. Aren’t they being equally ‘unfair’, given that those parents who live outside the catchment areas are also taxpayers? If it’s ‘unfair’ to prioritise one set of taxpayers over another, then all schools are guilty of the same sin.

The important thing to consider when devising school admission policies is, of course, what can be done to minimise unfairness within the system. What any sensible planner of a school admissions system must do is try to minimise any unfairness.

Mr Young is absolutely right that catchment areas often lead to segregation by house prices going up around popular schools, and there are no perfect solutions. But the evidence shows consistently that religious selection causes more socio-economic selection than almost anything else – ending such selection would no doubt reduce socio-economic segregation overall.

And this is to say nothing of the fact that religious segregation also, uniquely, is a direct cause of both religious and ethnic segregation. With much evidence out this year already on the need for ethnically mixed education, Mr Young should be mindful that socio-economic segregation is not the only issue.

A better argument the women could make is that the percentage of places available at faith secondary schools in the borough is higher than the percentage of borough residents who share those faiths. They sort of make this argument when they claim that ‘almost half’ of the schools in Hammersmith and Fulham are faith schools.

In fact, only three of the 11 secondary schools in Hammersmith and Fulham reserve a majority of their places for children of a particular faith, all of them Christian. That’s 27 per cent. When did 27 per cent become ‘almost half’? And even if it was ‘almost half’ that wouldn’t be a knockdown argument since, according to the 2001 census, 64 per cent of the borough’s population describe themselves as ‘Christian’.

As we have seen, five of the eleven schools in Hammersmith and Fulham religiously select to some degree. Mr Young has discounted the school that will select half of places and the one that selects a quarter.

It’s inexplicable that Mr Young quotes the 2001 Census instead of the 2011 Census, where 54% of borough residents said they were Christian. But regardless of that, Census figures record a much looser cultural affiliation as opposed to anything else. More informative is to look at Church attendance, which now nationally stands at 6% of the adult population, or 4-5% of the parent-age population. Compare that to the 23% of places in Hammersmith and Fulham that are selected on regular faith attendance – soon to go up when Fulham Boys School opens – and perhaps the disparity becomes a lot clearer.

The fundamental point missed by those who campaign against faith schools is that Christians are taxpayers too and many of them want their children to attend schools with a Christian ethos surrounded by children who share their faith. If all schools became secular, most of these parents would be forced to send their children to secular schools and that would be no more ‘fair’ than forcing secular parents to send their children to faith schools. It strikes me that the most liberal and tolerant position is to allow those taxpayers who want to send their children to faith schools to continue to do so.

It’s actually not the case that very many parents at all pick a school based on religion. One survey a few years ago asked parents to pick their top three factors from a list of twelve for choosing which school to send their children to, and only 9% picked religion. Performance was far and away the most important factor, with location, facilities, class sizes and curriculum also being important. In June the Westminster Faith Debates asked something similar and got similar results. ‘Ethical values’ was considered important by 23% of respondents, although not every respondent who picked this would have meant religious values by this; just 5% picked ‘Grounding of pupils in a faith tradition’ and 3% picked ‘Transmission of belief about God’.

All our Campaign advocates is opening up admissions to state funded religious schools. As we have already discussed, this does not mean ending the schools’ religious ethos. Many religious people including many Christians are motivated by their faith in support of the reform we put forward, and there is widespread public support.

When an oversubscribed ‘faith’ school in an area religiously selects, not only does that mean that that school’s intake will all be of one religion, perhaps one ethnicity, and in all probability socio-economically unrepresentative of the wider area; it also has a knock-on impact on all neighbouring schools, depriving pupils at those schools a chance to have friends of that faith, ethnicity or background. In other words, religiously selective schools cannot be considered in isolation as they have system-wide impact. The pros and cons of religious selection must be considered in light of this impact.

Of course Christians are taxpayers too, and of course some of them want their children to attend religiously segregated schools. But different taxpayers will always be making competing and incompatible demands on what their taxes are spent on (other demands might be for faith-based hospitals, as is the case in other countries, or in times gone by, school admissions policies that directly segregate on race or class), with no-one gaining an automatic right to have their wishes fulfilled. It is through democratic and civic participation that society decides how best to allocate these limited funds, and we hope this will be done based on an analysis of the benefits and harms of doing so. We do not think that taxes should fund religiously selective schools because of the religious, ethnic and socio-economic segregation their admissions policies cause, and it is for this reason that we campaign for change.