Monthly Archives: July 2013

Faith schools turning away from religious selection highlighted

The last edition of The Sunday Telegraph ran a piece (below) highlighting new Church of England Schools in London that are opting not to select pupils on religious grounds when oversubscribed. They join the large number of Voluntary Controlled faith schools (which have their admissions policy set by their local authority for education) that already do not select children according to faith, thereby further showing  schools do not need to discriminate to be faith schools. We applaud these institutions for deciding to be community minded.

No places for churchgoers in newly-opened faith schools

A new generation of Anglican schools is being opened with no reserved places for churchgoers to prevent desks being filled by children from pushy middle-class families.
By Graeme Paton, Education Editor 28 Jul 2013

The Church of England is backing the creation of “inclusive” schools that control their own admissions but give equal priority to non-believers, Anglicans and children from other faiths.

Two new schools will be opened in September with a 100 per cent “open entry” policy to create a more socially-balanced intake. At least nine others run along similar lines are in the pipeline.

Church leaders also hope that existing schools will amend their admissions rules to limit the number of reserved places for Christians.

The reforms – centred on new schools in London – were seized upon by groups who oppose selection by faith, saying it proved that “religious discrimination” was increasingly seen as an outmoded policy.

But it is likely to anger religious groups who have opposed previous attempts to limit the number of believers admitted to faith schools.

Two years ago, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Reverend John Pritchard, was heavily criticised after calling on head teachers to reserve no more than one-in-10 places at CofE schools to practising Anglicans.

However, the latest move goes even further by declaring that no Anglicans should be given priority in the admissions process.

It comes amid concerns over “pew-jumping” middle-class parents who get their children christened or volunteer at church just to secure places at sought-after faith schools.

Liz Wolverson, director of school support services for the London Diocesan Board for Schools, which is behind the policy, said: “We’re not big fans of people filling churches on Sunday just so they can get their children into school. We want people to come to church, but for the right reasons.

“We feel that it is really important to go back to our roots. We think we should be there to serve the community, so we’re really encouraging schools to move towards [open admissions].

“Some have embraced it fully and don’t have any admissions criteria other than making the nearest children the priority.”

Miss Wolverson, who is also chief executive of the LDBS Academies Trust, a newly-established company set up to maintain and develop new Anglican schools, denied that open entry would dilute schools’ religious ethos.

“Their Christian values are written through them like a stick of rock,” she said.

“But when you have pockets of London where 99 per cent are, say, Bangladeshi, then it’s right that our schools reflect that community.”

The Government is encouraging the opening of new schools through its “free schools” policy – creating state-funded institutions that are run by parents, teachers, charities and faith groups independent of local authority control.

It has welcomed bids from religious organisations but ruled that they can only set aside 50 per cent of places for believers.

The London Diocesan Board for Schools is backing the creation of new Anglican free schools in the capital but making it clear that it favours no reserved places for Christian families.

One free school – St Luke’s primary in Camden – was opened in 2011, admitting pupils who lived closest to the school, irrespective of faith.

In September, William Perkin CofE high, Ealing, will also open with priority given to pupils who live nearest the gates. A second school, St Mary’s Hampton CofE primary, Hampton, will use a lottery-style system to effectively pick applicants at random whatever their faith.

Almost all other faith-based free schools select along religious lines.

In a further disclosure, it emerged that the London Diocesan Board for Schools has written to other existing Anglican schools in the capital urging them to limit CofE admissions to no more than 50 per cent.

Existing faith schools are either voluntary-aided – with freedom to run their own entry policies – or voluntary-controlled – meaning they follow local council admissions rules and do no select along faith lines.

A CofE spokesman said: “Admissions policies vary in different types of church schools.”

A spokesman for the Accord Coalition, a campaign group set up to oppose selection by faith, said: “Selecting pupils on religious grounds is discriminatory and increases ethnic and religious segregation. We commend those faith schools that are choosing to turn away from selecting any children by faith.

“Schools should assume responsibility for the wider well-being of their neighbourhood, not look to serve their own.”

Fair Admissions Campaign débuts in Parliamentary debate

The Fair Admissions Campaign had its first outing in Parliament this afternoon after a debate about religiously selective admission arrangements at faith schools was held in the House of Lords following a question tabled by Fair Admissions Campaign supporter, Baroness Joan Bakewell.

Baroness Bakewell asked the Government if it had plans to encourage religiously selective schools to adopt a more open admissions policy, and whether it believed children should be ‘integrated or segregated’. In reply, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, Lord Nash said the Government ‘supports inclusive admission arrangements’ and believed ‘strongly that one of the secrets for success in this country is that children should be integrated’.

In total, ten Peers made contributions to the debate from the Lords’ five largest groupings, and several peers made wider points regarding state funded faith schools. Those specifically addressing religious selection in admissions included Baroness Richardson, who highlighted how not all schools of religious character select on faith grounds. Lord Dubs strongly argued that Northern Ireland’s heavily religiously segregated school system was a contributing factor to the providence’s community tensions and that the experience offered an ‘ominous lesson’ to Great Britain.

You can read the full debate on Parliament’s website. The Fair Admissions Campaign will continue to lobby Peers and MPs on the issue of religious selection.

Fair Admissions Campaign dismay as Government announces 5,800 new religiously restricted school places

The Government has announced it is to fund at least 5,788 new school places which are likely to be subject to religiously selective admissions criteria. The funding was announced yesterday through the Targeted Basic Need programme, and the number of places dwarfs the estimated 3,783 places that have been created so far at religious Free Schools and yet cannot be apportioned on faith grounds – Free Schools can select to half their pupils on the basis of religion. The Fair Admissions Campaign, which aims to end religious selection by state funded schools, has expressed regret at the decision, and called on the Government to require that all schools involved in the programme guarantee that any new places they gain are open places.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, Chair of the Accord Coalition, commented, ‘It is astonishing that a time when it is vital for the future harmony of British society that children of different faith backgrounds grow up together in school, almost 6,000 faith-restricted school places are being created. The country needs its children to be integrated, not segregated.’

Professor Ted Cantle CBE of the iCoCo Foundation commented, ‘Believe it or not, the Government does actually have an integration policy, but only on paper. This is clearly a case of being departments being completely “unjoined up”, being blind to their own words – and to common sense – and allowing another 6,000 children and their friendships to be segregated during their most formative of years.’

Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association, commented, ‘Yesterday’s announcement undermines the Government’s coalition agreement commitment to “work with faith groups to enable more faith schools and facilitate inclusive admissions policies in as many of these schools as possible.” We urge the Government to require that all places funded through this scheme are inclusive of everyone, instead of badly damaging this commitment.’

Jeremy Rodell, Chair of the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, commented, ‘Many of the schools that will benefit from this welcome investment in education are effectively unavailable to the great majority of local children because they insist on faith-based selection when they are over-subscribed. This is grossly unfair. It would be easy for the Government to make the funding conditional on all new places created being available to everyone, regardless of their religion or beliefs.’

The Fair Admissions Campaign has written to the Government to express its concern.

Notes

For further comment please contact Accord Coalition Coordinator Paul Pettinger on 020 7324 3071, BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on 07738 435 059, or email info@fairadmissions.org.uk.

Read the Government’s announcement: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/targeted-capital-funding-for-new-school-places

View the list of schools to be expanded: http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/l/tbnp%20list%20of%20projects%20july%202013%20-%20final%20version.pdf

The 5,788 figure was calculated by going through the spreadsheet, identifying all places at religiously named schools (6,939), and checking how many of those schools religiously select in admissions (and if so, to what extent).

The 3,783 figure refers to half of the number of places at religiously designated Free Schools to have opened so far (i.e. in the first two waves of the programme). Free Schools are not allowed to select more than 50% of their places on the basis of faith due to a clause in their funding agreement. Grindon Hall Christian School is excluded from this figure as it was already a fully inclusive private school so cannot be said to have opened up its admissions as a result of the programme.

Visit the Fair Admissions Campaign website at http://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.

The Campaign is already being supported by the Accord Coalition, 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 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.

Religious selection in admissions debated at General Synod fringe event

Building on the launch of the Fair Admissions Campaign in June, one of the founding groups of the campaign, the Accord Coalition, held a fringe event on the future of religiously selective admission policies at Church of England schools at the meeting of its General Synod in York yesterday (July 8th). Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, was joined on the panel of speakers by Fair Admissions Campaigns supporter, Professor Ted Cantle CBE of the iCoCo Foundation, as well as Huw Thomas, former head teacher of a joint Church of England and Roman Catholic School and Education Director for the Diocese of Sheffield.

Rabbi Romain contended that appeals for religiously selective Anglican schools to modify their admission policy present the Church with a moral challenge. He argued that choosing between a Christian system that allowed selection and a non-Christian one that did not was a false choice, and that committing to not discriminating was not a ‘secular sound bite’, but also a religious principle. He noted the comments made in 2011 by the Chair for the Church of England Board of Education Board, The Rt Revd John Pritchard, that it was his hope that the number of places reserved for Anglicans at Church Schools could be reduced to 10%.

Professor Ted Cantle CBE spoke of the findings his 2001 ‘Cantle Report’ into that year’s race riots, which found that people living in riot-hit areas were leading ‘parallel lives’ where they did not mix with people from other backgrounds in social, work and invariably school life. He argued this led to people living in fear and ignorance and created an environment where mistrust and even hatred could be stirred. He noted that while the 2011 Census showed that British society was slightly less segregated overall, it disguised some areas where minority groups had become more residentially segregated, while evidence suggests that faith and ethnic segregation between schools has not improved, but has got worse.

Professor Ted Cantle highlighted what he saw as an apparent irony between the Church of England embracing central Government’s ‘Near Neighbours’ scheme, which seeks to advance community relations, and those Anglican schools that select pupils on faith grounds, which be believed undermined social cohesion, and urged selective Anglican schools to recognise and address the inconsistency of their approach.

Huw Thomas explained that he needed to know there was a good reason to prevent people or bodies from doing things they might wish to do, and took issue with how some critics of religiously selective schools framed such selection in terms of exclusivity and separation. He argued that many organisations in society sought to engage with and cater to particular constituencies; that all schools needed to select which children to admit when oversubscribed, and questioned why faith and Church Schools should be singled out and accused critics of advancing a separatist agenda.

He also argued that other forms of selection in education could be shown to be more pernicious, such as division by postcode, and noted that in his experience when deciding upon the location of new schools Diocesan Boards of Education favoured locating them in more vulnerable areas. He also highlighted that the first school where he was head teacher admitted about 95% of pupils from a Muslim background.

Mr Thomas argued that Church schools sought to engage with and develop pupils’ ‘huge’ spiritual capacity and that by helping pupils grow a stronger sense of faith identity so pupils were better able to go out into the world and relate to those around them. He appealed to Synod members to keep in mind what kind of society they would like when considering what Church schools do.

As meeting Chair, Rabbi Romain took interventions from the audience. A Synod member from Cheltenham urged that a distinction be made between Church schools in rural areas, which he believed acted like community schools, and Church schools in urban areas, which he argued was where most selection in admissions takes place. The member also argued that a parental choice agenda was currently the driving force in school age education and that those who favoured religiously selective policies the most were parents.

Another Synod member spoke of feeling ‘tarnished’ for their involvement in drawing up the religiously selective admissions policy of a school, and questioned whether Church schools should be providing incentives for parents, prospective governors, teachers and job applicants to feign religious adherence.