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.

Parents fail in bid to overturn Church of England school’s decision to scrap religious selection

A group of parents who opposed the decision of a Church of England school in Kingston upon Thames to end selection by religion have failed in their attempt to reinstate faith-based admissions criteria. St Luke’s Primary School announced in April this year that they would no longer admit children on the basis of the church attendance of their parents, after the local vicar raised concerns about parents only attending his services in order to get their children into school. However, a group of parents sought to challenge the change through an objection to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA), but that objection has now been quashed. The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) has welcomed the OSA’s decision and hopes it will encourage more schools to become similarly inclusive.

Ever since making the announcement, St Luke’s has become the subject of significant media attention, and its governor and local vicar Father Martin Hislop has been vocal both in his uneasiness about religious selection and in his desire to ensure that Church schools are run to best serve  their local communities. Indeed, the school’s announcement came just a few weeks after 20 prominent members of the Church of England published an open letter calling for a move towards less faith-based selection and more inclusive admissions arrangements.

Despite this, the objecting parents claimed that the decision was ‘unfair on those who live further from the school’ and said that the governing body had failed both to consult widely enough and to properly consider alternative proposals that had been put forward. However, information provided to the Adjudicator by the school confirmed that the local diocese, the local authority, other local schools, and the local community had all been part of an extensive and transparent consultation process. The OSA therefore decided not to uphold the parents’ objection, concluding that ‘the governing body met the requirements of the [School Admissions] Code’ when setting the new arrangements.

Reacting to the news, coordinator of the local Kingston Fair Admissions group, Guy Shirley, said ‘We’re very pleased, but not surprised, that the Adjudicator has ruled in favour of the governors of St Luke’s, who were both fair and diligent in how they conducted their consultation. The vast majority of people in Kingston recognise that the move represents a change for the good, and we’ll continue to campaign for more schools in the area to follow the example set by St Luke’s’.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Jonathan Romain, added ‘We welcomed St Luke’s’ decision to end religious selection when it was first announced, and we’re happy that the change is set to go ahead. This may only be one school, but the message it sends about eradicating religious discrimination in the education system is an important one and a powerful one.’

Notes

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

Read the OSA’s full determination on the parents’ objection: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/456209/ADA2905_St_Lukes_Primary_School_Kingston_26Aug15.pdf

Read the FAC’s previous news item on this story: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/church-of-england-school-in-kingston-to-scrap-discriminatory-admissions-policy/

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 Dioceses that encourage their schools to not select pupils by faith

New findings have revealed that a group of Church of England Dioceses have embraced calls for change from Anglican clergy who have recommended that their schools move away from selecting any pupils by faith. The research, carried out by the Fair Admissions Campaign member group the Accord Coalition, found 3 of the Church’s Dioceses now advocate that their schools do not select pupils on religious grounds when oversubscribed. The Dioceses are Oxford, Lincoln and Leicester.

In addition, the Dioceses of London and Chichester were found to recommend that new schools should not select by faith. The Diocese of London also recommends that its existing schools do not select more than half of pupils by faith, while Chester and Southwark recommend their schools should admit some children without recourse to faith, but do not specify a limit. However, analysis from the Campaign shows a significant mismatch between the inclusive ambitions of most the Dioceses and the policies being implemented by their schools on the ground.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said ‘Many Anglican schools have yet to act on the more inclusive policies being advocated by their own Diocese, so we welcome the new direction, but urge that its implementation be speeded up. Church authorities should demonstrate their words will be followed by action.’

The Rev Stephen Terry, who co-organised an open letter published at Easter from 20 members of the Church calling for its schools to move away from selecting pupils by faith, welcomed the news. He said ‘Church of England schools should be inclusive, as an expression of the warmth and generosity of the Church’s mission to the whole community. The lead being provided by these Dioceses should be encouraged and supported.

‘In 2013 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that it was not necessary to select by faith to get a really good school. The inclusive approaches of the Dioceses reaffirm his point and should motivate local schools to change, and inspire others throughout the country.’

Dioceses have an important role to play in school admission arrangements. When state funded Church of England schools determine their own admissions policy, they must have regard to any Diocesan guidance when setting faith based criteria, as the statutory School Admissions Code sets out. A wide range of approaches are currently pursued within the Church of England sector.

Research in 2013 from the Fair Admissions Campaign found that the average proportion of pupil places that could be allotted by faith in the oversubscription criteria of Church of England secondary schools was 49.7%. In contrast, only 10.9% of places at the growing number of generically ‘Christian’ schools were apportioned by faith. Currently, almost all pupil places at state funded Methodist schools and all places at state funded United Reformed Church schools are rewarded without recourse to religion.

The latest research found some Dioceses were helping to advance inclusivity in other, more subtle ways. The Diocese of Chester provides schools with template admissions policies, thereby helping prevent schools inadvertently breaching the Admissions Code. The templates suggest schools give highest priority to children in care regardless of faith (many faith schools admit co-religionists before considering children who are in care and not of the faith) and that siblings should be admitted before those that meet church worship criteria, so helping keep families together in the same school.

Notes

The table below sets out how religiously selective are the secondary schools in each of the Dioceses found to be advocating their schools operate open or partly open admission arrangements. It shows that, while the secondary schools in the Dioceses of Leicester have become almost entirely open, there is still a large mismatch between the stated aims of the other Dioceses and reality. Most of the Dioceses are not yet bringing to bear the influence they hold over their school’s ability to religiously select.

Diocese Number of secondary schools % of places allocated by faith in school admission policies
Diocese of London 18 67.7%
Diocese of Lincoln 4 62.0%
Diocese of Southwark 13 57.0%
Diocese of Chichester 9 54.1%
Diocese of Oxford 11 22.7%
Diocese of Leicester 4 3.4%

Last year the incoming Chief Education Officer of the Church of England, the Rev Nigel Genders, suggested many new C of E schools opening would be fully inclusive in their admissions policies. The Fair Admissions Campaign investigated the claim and found a mixture of approaches being  pursued. Recently opened schools included the Green School for Boys in Hounslow, St Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Ealing and Fulham Boys School (all located in the Diocese of London), and the the King’s School in Hove (located in the Diocese of Chichester). All five schools have opted to select up to 50% of pupils by faith in their oversubscription criteria – despite both Dioceses stating they want new schools to be fully non-religiously selective.

How religious selection in schools unfairly limits parental choice

Every week, the Fair Admissions Campaign receives calls and emails from parents who are unable to get their children into their local schools due to the religiously-selective admissions criteria that many of them employ. On its own, this is little more state-sanctioned, state-funded religious discrimination, but it also has the corollary effect of unfairly limiting the choice of vast swathes of the population who are either of the ‘wrong’ religion, or who aren’t religious at all. Of course, this can be more of a problem in some areas than it is in others.

Take, for example, the case of one mother from Farnham in Surrey, who got in touch with us last year:

‘Of the 10 schools closest to us, only 2 do not require you to attend Church or follow the Christian faith. My daughter was rejected by the 4 schools we listed and instead placed in the worst school in our area. It is a failing school that has been placed in special measures and we have heard of numerous accounts of parents removing their children due to bullying. We chose to live here because of the schools and to be close to one set of parents. At the time we made that decision, neither of us were aware of the admissions policies.’

She went on to say that ‘to judge a FOUR YEAR OLD on her religious beliefs is ridiculous.’

Regrettably, limits to parental choice of this kind are extremely common. In Kensington and Chelsea for instance, around 60% of places are subject to religious criteria:

‘My wife and I have been going through the process of applying for a primary school place for our son.  We live in Kensington and Chelsea.  Forced to take a close look at how the system worked, we were appalled to see the distorting effect that faith schools had on our choice.  We’re not fans of the concept in general but were particularly aggrieved when it became clear that, because all even half-decent schools in K&C are oversubscribed, we had less choice of taxpayer-funded schools than someone whose child was a Catholic, has been baptised, etc.  Any of those people can of course apply to a non-faith school and get an equal chance of a place to us but the converse is not true.’

Unsurprisingly, parents of the wrong or no faith are disproportionately disadvantaged by such criteria. The consequences of this are well-documented, as attested to by this mother who wrote to us last year:

‘Like many parents, my nearest three schools are faith schools which are able to prioritise church-going children over non-church-going ones (two Christian, one Catholic). They are always heavily oversubscribed…Speaking to other parents, I’ve confirmed what I thought were simply my negative suspicions – parents attending church purely to get a place at these schools. They begrudge their lost Sundays, but they do it.’

Unwilling to do the same, she was forced to apply for a place at a  school with no religious character further away from home and, in her own words, ‘cross my fingers, expecting to spend 2012/3 in appeals’. As it currently stands therefore, the system rewards parents who lie about their religion in order to get their children into school, with a recent poll suggesting that as many as 36% of parents have done this or would be willing to. Conversely, the system penalises and drastically limits the choice of parents who rightly feel uncomfortable with this. As this particular mother put it, ‘my child should not be penalised and put at the bottom of a long, long list just because his parents don’t have a particular belief. This just seems all so, so wrong’.

Notes

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

Ethnic ghettoisation of English schools revealed

A new study for the think tank Demos has revealed that schools in England are not keeping pace with the changing ethnic profile of society and are a major source of segregation. The detailed search found that between 2008 and 2013 ‘… the levels of segregation in English schools has remained stable or only somewhat declined as the nation’s diversity has increased substantially’.

In regards to faith schools, the author’s observed that ‘Religious identities often overlap with ethnic identities and therefore some faith schools effectively exclude other ethnic groups’. The study found that primary schools in the Blackburn, Bradford and Oldham local authority areas were the most ethnically segregated in the country. All three boroughs experienced race riots in the summer of 2001.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘The culture where some schools are seen as for and belonging to certain groups is made worse by faith schools. The Government can help to de-escalate the situation by extending to all faith schools the limit placed on most new faith schools to not religiously select more than half their pupils.

‘The education system has to change and adopt itself to the fact that it exists in an increasingly diverse society. Schools that purposely divide by religion or ethnicity cannot be part of a more integrated and cohesive future.’

British Humanist Assocation Campaigns Manager, Richy Thompson, commented ‘The BHA’s own research has shown that the most ethnically segregated schools are minority religious schools, while religious selection amongst Christian schools directly contributes to their failure to admit a representative share of the local Asian population. Ending religious selection in school admissions would go a long way to ending ethnic segregation in Blackburn, Bradford, Oldham and elsewhere.’

Fair Admissions Campaign welcomes Council’s stand against religious selection

The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) has today welcomed the stand taken by Cambridgeshire County Council against proposals for a raft of new religiously-selective schools in the area.

Meeting to discuss an approach by the Roman Catholic Diocese of East Anglia requesting support for the establishment of new Catholic primary schools in Cambridgeshire, the council’s Children and Young People Committee expressed almost unanimous opposition to allowing new schools to prioritise children on the basis of faith.

At the meeting, the council’s Executive Director for Children, Families and Adults Services, Adrian Loades, presented a draft policy to the committee, stating that the council ‘would not support the establishment of a denominational school as the first school in a new community unless its admissions policy was to give priority to children living in the catchment and not to reserve a certain number of places for those of a particular faith’.

Happily, this position was endorsed by members of the committee. Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Downes warned the council against ‘assisting segregation’ through its schools policy and Labour councillor Joan Whitehead, who chairs the committee, added ‘I think schools need to be inclusive. Children need to learn to get on with all faiths and I think a lot of the troubles we see today around the world are when people of different faiths are not able to get along together’.

Welcoming the committee’s stance, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said ‘This news is simply the latest illustration of just how little support there now is for religious discrimination in school admissions. The council’s decision is of course the right one – if a church or faith group really want to serve their community, then they should do just that, rather than uncharitably limit their school places to a small and exclusive group.’

Richy Thompson, Campaigns Manager at the British Humanist Association, added ‘Cambridgeshire County Council’s stand against discrimination and segregation sends an extremely powerful message and we hope it will act as an example not only for other local authorities but also for Government.’

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.