Monthly Archives: November 2013

‘What some will do to get a child into a religiously selective school’

The following article was originally published by The Times on 20 November, written by Helen Rumbelow:

Looking around the hall you may have thought the crowd were here to learn a lottery result — they were tense, straining as they waited to hear the one number that would set the fate of hundreds of winners and, worse, cast to purgatory those losers who had prayed so hard.

Tickets had run out long before, the headmistress had sung a hymn of outstanding results and the perfectly groomed teenage pupils had played angelic music. Now came the important bit: how many points of religiosity did parents need to get in?

The admissions leader at Twyford Church of England High School in West London took a deep breath and said: “Last year the number was …..” The crowd inhaled. “The full 27.”

Soon there was a scramble for the doors. “Honey, it’s 27” said one man on the phone to his wife, undisguised panic rising in his voice.

What “the full 27” meant was that in order for their child to have a chance of attending this taxpayer-funded state school, they would have to gather points by committing to extraordinary levels of devotion to a religious institution. At the minimum this school demanded a solid half decade of church service: weekly attendance at services for both parent and child, plus at least two supplementary voluntary activities by both parent and child. You didn’t just have to get down on your knees, you had to get down on your knees and clean the church floor while you were there (regular church cleaning = 1 point).

The past week has shown the future of Christian schools in crisis. On Monday, George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, announced that Anglican church attendance was dwindling so fast it was one generation away from extinction, with young people mostly staying away. Yet on the same day, the Right Rev John Pritchard, the Bishop of Oxford, spoke in defence of Anglican schools and, by extension, their entry requirements based on church attendance.

Something here does not compute: churchgoing is down so far it is in crisis, yet at churches connected to sought-after Anglican schools, the pews could not be more packed with parents and toddlers.

Meanwhile the current Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, told The Times there was a move from “faith-based entry tests” so that church schools would better serve the common good. Implicit in his remarks is embarrassment over a body of research which shows that faith schools in England cater to a disproportionate group of richer, whiter, more educated families in their areas. In other words, the “on your knees to avoid school fees” crowd were propping up emptying Sunday services, often paying in direct debits and supplying many hours of unpaid work in their desperation to please. That may in itself turn off those who are crying out for spiritual leadership but find the sight of parents feeling obliged to give free IT support to their church (1 point) far from divine. If Jesus were somehow born again in the suburbs around Twyford school, what would he do?

Andrew Penman’s is a good example of the anomalous situation parents find themselves in. Despite being an atheist he felt compelled to embark upon a two-year campaign of religiosity. “I remember catching the eye of someone I knew, a fellow atheist, across the font: it was surreal, like living in an alien culture. Everyone knew those congregations were full of non-believers, there for one specific reason.”

When Penman’s son was born, he was pleased that the local state primary was just across the road from his house in South London. “I was naive,” he says. Penman is rare in talking openly about his begrudging church attendance in his book, School Daze: My Search for a Decent State Secondary School , but those in the business talk off the record about the frequency of nursery conversions and, for faith secondaries, the “Year 5 epiphany”.

“I have had all sorts of abuse for admitting that I faked being religious, but I’m not a hypocrite,” says Penman. “I have never condemned anyone for what I did. And I’m not the only one. If you go to most Anglican churches you see empty pews. But if a church is near a successful school, it’s rammed with parents of toddlers. What angers me is that people are effectively banned from sending their kids to the local state school if they don’t follow a particular cult, a school where all the staff, cooks, everything, are paid by the public.”

Sometimes tensions bubble over in public. Earlier this year parents at the Kentish Town Church of England Primary School in North London came close to war. The school had recently been rated outstanding by Ofsted and this led to a surge of parents applying for church places, up tenfold in one year. They took priority over the younger siblings of children already at the school but who were there on nonreligious grounds. These aggrieved parents accused the new church applicants of middle-class pushiness and of “working” the system.

Carol Fry, the churchwarden, told the local paper that she had taken to patrolling the back pews to watch for parental sneakery: “I hold the register and I’m absolutely rigorous. I sit at the back and make sure they don’t sign and go off again.”

But mostly the practices are covert: a City solicitor I knew was suddenly seen sweeping leaves in the local churchyard. For him it came down to “pray or pay”: the alternative to the almost exclusively middle-class church school was private fees for three children. He worked out that every hour spent leaf-sweeping would save him £1,000, more than he charged his clients.

It was this kind of point-accruing act of service — aka “jumping through hoops” — that landed London Oratory School , an esteemed Catholic secondary favoured by the children of Tony Blair and Nick Clegg, in trouble with the Office of the Schools Adjudicator this summer. The adjudicator ruled that such tests of commitment gave an advantage to parents who are “good at planning ahead”, a little euphemism for the middle classes.

Faith schools account for a third of state schools in England, mostly Anglican, a lesser proportion Catholic, and a few Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh. As Education Secretary, David Blunkett tried to force faith schools to widen their admissions but later Ruth Kelly, supported by Tony Blair, gave full backing to an expansion of the faith school programme.

Faith-based academies have boomed and it is important to note that these are generally new secondary schools in more deprived areas that admit far fewer children based on faith. This is why the Bishop of Oxford was yesterday keen to emphasise that church secondaries are not socially divisive compared with the national average, although if you compare the intake of church secondaries to their local areas the figures show that they still take 13 per cent fewer children eligible for free school meals than other state schools.

For primaries, the segregation is more marked. In 2011 Olmo Silva from the London School of Economics examined all 11,000 state primaries in England and found that children at church school were more likely to have English as a first language and be white and were less likely to have special educational needs or be eligible for free school meals.

“Even when you have children living in the same street, the child that goes to faith school is more likely to be better off and white. What we’re seeing here is parents who are better off are more able to commit to the entry requirements.”

The flipside of the research was that Silva found that nearly all of the better test results of the church schools were accounted for by the more privileged intake — in other words a white, middle-class kid would do just as well at a non-faith school.

Research by Rebecca Allen at the Institute of Education found that the sheer complexity of rules surrounding entry to faith schools put off all but the most determined and educated parents. Yes, she says, the affluent are more likely to be religious. However, even among religious people her research shows that the rich are more likely to go to a church school than the poor. It’s as if the admissions to the best faith schools are the eye of the needle and the rich are indeed pushing a camel through.

“Privately, a lot of churches don’t want to end the current system as it is a means to get bums on seats on a Sunday,” says Allen. Research has never been done, she says, on how often parents find God when their child is coming up to school age: “If you ask people you don’t get an honest response, not necessarily because they lie but because they justify it to themselves.” She adds: “There is a policy that would avoid the perpetual gaming that takes place. Church schools would have to restrict their faith-based places to the number of local churchgoers who had children in the age range of the school. There would be little point in the parents of four-year-olds going to church if the older ones didn’t continue and there would be no incentive for the older ones to continue if they weren’t there for the religion.”

I ask Silva if he would consider a faith school when he had children. “Well, the system of admissions to a faith school sometimes sounds less unfair than the selection by mortgage you get for good community schools. What is more fair, the ethical discomfort from faking religious belief or being barred by the fact that you can’t spend that amount on a house?”

It’s something to meditate on this Sunday: do you want your reward to be in heaven or in the property market? Needless to say campaigners for social mobility through education — like, say, the Sutton Trust — advocate selection by lottery. Real lotteries, not just those that come up with a number 27.

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As Catholic bishops state opposition to inclusive admissions, Fair Admissions Campaign points to examples of inclusivity

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales has issued a statement setting out their hostility to the 50% cap on religious selection by Free Schools. In the statement, the Bishops argue that 100% religious selection is necessary in order to ‘the conditions required to ensure a distinctive Catholic education remain the… [control of] admissions arrangements’. However, the Fair Admissions Campaign has pointed to evidence faith-based selection is unnecessary for a religious school to maintain its ethos.

The statement says: ‘The Bishops’ Conference recognises that, in the circumstances prevailing in England and Wales, 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. The Bishops’ Conference mandates the Catholic Education Service to continue to press the government and politicians to modify this policy so that it no longer places a disproportionate disadvantage on the Catholic community.’

However, many Church of England schools do not religiously select, and yet continue to be able to maintain their ethos. For example, in defence of making their schools more inclusive, the Diocese of London recently rejected the notion that fully open admissions would dilute their religious ethos by saying that ‘Their Christian values are written through them like a stick of rock’. Whereas Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently said that ‘There are unbelievably brilliant [CofE] schools that are entirely open to all applicants without selection criteria apart from residence, where you live, and which produce staggeringly good results. It’s a question of — and you can point to them all over the place — it’s a question of outstanding leadership.’

There are also a growing number of Catholic schools that do not fully religiously select in admissions. There are two Roman Catholic Free Schools, namely St Michael’s Catholic Secondary School in Cornwall and St Anthony’s School in Gloucestershire. A third, Trinity Academy in Lambeth, is being proposed, but the local diocese has told the proposers that due to its admissions policy, it considers that it ‘is not a Catholic school’. In response, the lead proposer commented that ‘In our initial exploratory talks with the Catholic Education Service we were alarmed by the vehement hostility some senior figures within Catholic education displayed towards Michael Gove and his reforms. It was really over the top.’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Chair of the Accord Coalition, commented, ‘At a time when many people of goodwill, be they religious or secular, believe that it is right for children of different traditions to mix and grow up together, it is both surprising and sad that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference is trying to raise the drawbridge and isolate them from each other. It is hard to imagine their founder adopting the same stance, while it certainly contradicts the command to love your neighbour as yourself.’

Jeremy Rodell, Chair of the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, commented, ‘The Catholic Church has just opened a new secondary school in Twickenham after a long battle about its admissions policy. 3,500 local people from a whole range of backgrounds signed a petition seeking inclusive admissions at the school. But the Council and the Church pushed through a Voluntary Aided school with up to 100% faith based discrimination by exploiting a legal loophole kept open by the Department for Education to enable the Church to circumvent the “50% rule”. No other organisation expects this kind of privilege.’

Notes

For further comment please contact Accord Coalition Chair Jonathan Romain on 07770 722 893 or email info@fairadmissions.org.uk. For further information please contact Accord Coalition Coordinator Paul Pettinger on 020 7324 3071.

The London Oratory School, a Roman Catholic secondary in Fulham, is currently challenging through the Department for Education a decision by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator that it must remove its ‘Catholic service criterion’ from its admissions policy, a decision that was reached following a complaint by the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2013/11/05/london-oratory-school-challenges-schools-adjudicators-decision-must-rewrite-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.

Fair Admissions Campaign response to John Pritchard’s comments on the inclusivity of Church schools

Writing in today’s DailyTelegraph, John Pritchard, the Bishop of Oxford and Chair of the Church of England’s Board of Education, has insisted that the Church’s schools ‘fully reflect the society in which we live’, citing statistics showing that their schools are as inclusive as the national average. However, the Fair Admissions Campaign has responded by pointing out that this is a flawed approach to assessing how inclusive Church schools are: schools should instead be compared to their local averages.

The Bishop writes that ‘At CofE secondary schools, 15 per cent of pupils are eligible for free school meals. With our mission to serve the poor and excluded, maybe this figure should be higher, but it is in line with the national average for non CofE schools, which is also 15 percent. One of the great accusations against Church schools is that they are predominantly for white, middle-class pupils whereas our statistics tell a different story. Our secondary schools serve approximately the same percentage of black or ethnic minority pupils as non-CofE secondary schools (25 per cent).

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, commented, ‘To take so simple a comparison as the Church is making and extrapolate from it a defence that the state schools they control are as inclusive of others is an embarrassing abuse of statistics. The correct way to compare the inclusivity of schools is to acknowledge that different schools are in different areas and compare schools to their vicinities, not to a national average. When you do this, you see that Church-controlled secondaries take 9% fewer pupils with English as an Additional Language, 13% fewer pupils eligible for Free School Meals than their vicinities, and 24% fewer Asian pupils – with the difference in standing almost entirely due to religious selection in admissions.’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Chair of the Accord Coalition, commented, ‘It is no good quoting apparently benign statistics about school meals, but then stopping children from the “wrong religion” or no religion from entering the school gates. The problem with faith-based admissions is not just the economic issue, but the way they segregate children of different backgrounds at a time when it is in the interest of both the children and society at large that they grow up learning together.’

In the article, the Bishop of Oxford also claims that Church schools are better schools academically and in terms of their ethos. Jeremy Rodell, Chair of the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, commented, ‘The more emphasis the Church of England places on the quality of its schools, the more outrageous the unfairness of denying access to them for non-Anglicans. Why should the choice of a good state funded church school be denied to children simply because of their parents’ religious practices?’

Notes

For further comment please contact Accord Coalition Chair Jonathan Romain on 07770 722 893 or BHA Campaigns Officer Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072 or email info@fairadmissions.org.uk.

Read the Bishop’s article: http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1886944/19-11-2013%20bishop%20john%20pritchard,%20daily%20telegraph%20article.pdf

Read the Telegraph’s associated coverage: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10458339/Anglican-schools-not-dominated-by-middle-class-pupils.html

The Fair Admissions Campaign has recently highlighted a number of Church schools that are highly selective in their admissions. For example, Twyford Church of England High School in Ealing gives priority in its admissions to pupils whose parents participate in ‘voluntary service’ such as ‘Bell ringing’, ‘Flower arranging at church’, ‘Assisting with collection/counting money’, ‘Tea & coffee Rota’, ‘Church cleaning’, ‘Church maintenance’ and  ‘Parish Magazine Editor’ and ‘Technical support’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/acclaimed-church-of-england-high-school-selects-pupils-on-basis-of-parents-cleaning-flower-arranging-and-participation-in-tea-and-coffee-rota/

Further highly socio-economically selective schools are highlighted at http://fairadmissions.org.uk/fair-admissions-campaign-reveals-the-50-segregated-schools-most-unrepresentative-of-their-local-areas/

The Telegraph article also quotes from a recent letter in The Times in which Rev Edmund Cargill Thompson writes ‘I have recently become Vicar of St Peter’s Church Eaton Square with its attached primary school. We are extremely diverse precisely because we admit on the basis of church attendance. About 30 different ethnic backgrounds are represented in the school. We draw people from Kennington, Vauxhall and the council houses of Pimlico. The children of millionaires mix with those on free school meals. If our school admitted solely on grounds of distance, we would be entirely white and entirely millionaires. Would that be diverse? We may be an extreme example, but since the Christian faith is so strongly represented among ethnic minorities, selection by distance would often lead to white upper-middle class secularists who know how to play the game and can buy houses in the right place, crowding out less well-off Afro-Caribbean, East European and Asian Christians.’ In fact, the school in question has 9.72% of pupils eligible for free school meals. In the school’s immediate vicinity  the figure is 47% – in other words, 37 percentage points fewer pupils eligible for FSM than locally, which in fact makes it the eleventh most socio-economically selective primary in the country.

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.

Fair Admissions Campaign response to Justin Welby’s comments on admissions

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has been reported as telling The Times that ‘What you are seeing in the Church schools is a deeper and deeper commitment to the common good. There’s a steady move away from faith-based entry tests… It is not necessary to select to get a really good school. There are unbelievably brilliant schools that are entirely open to all applicants without selection criteria apart from residence, where you live, and which produce staggeringly good results. It’s a question of — and you can point to them all over the place — it’s a question of outstanding leadership.’

However, Lambeth Palace has subsequently rebutted the story, and put out a statement quoting the Archbishop as saying that ‘I fully support the current policy for schools to set their own admissions criteria, including the criterion of faith. Nothing in my wider comments to The Times on this subject should be seen as dissenting from this policy.’

The British Humanist Association (BHA), Accord Coalition for inclusive education and Professor Ted Cantle, and the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC) are on the steering group of the Fair Admissions Campaign.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘Religious selection in admissions segregates pupils on the basis of their parents’ beliefs and on socio-economic and ethnic grounds. Any move to end it must be welcome. Unfortunately, however, this is not the first time in recent years that representatives of the Church have been reported as saying one thing only for this to later be rebutted or not translated into reality. There have been promises, for example, of at least 25% inclusivity in 200690% inclusivity in 2011 and 50% inclusivity in London. Ongoing research by the Fair Admissions Campaign shows that a huge number of Church schools have admissions criteria that are more restrictive than this, frequently allowing for the selection of every single pupil on the basis of faith. If the Church of England now joins the campaign to repeal the laws allowing religious discrimination, of course that will be a significant change – but it appears that will not be the case.’

Rabbi Dr Romain commented, ‘That the Archbishop has spoken about the way Church schools have up to now selected in their admission policies and the need for this to change – implying surely that the current situation is to be regretted – is a step forward, although it is also regrettable that the implications of those comments have largely been overridden. The way religiously selective schools discriminate in their admission policies is highly dubious, both morally and religiously, for not only do they divide children from one another, but a faith school that is based on discrimination has little religious credibility.’

Professor Ted Cantle commented, ‘Justin Welby’s comments in The Times make his views views clear – and he is right to support a move away from faith-based selection. I think his comments show the contradiction between the faith’s ideals and the practice of the Church.’

Jeremy Rodell, spokesperson for RISC said ‘To take the example of the London Borough of Richmond: all eight of the Voluntary Aided Anglican primaries with reception classes have admissions policies involving faith-based selection. In four of them the result is a high level of discrimination against children whose parents are not practising Anglicans. Despite Vince Cable, the MP for Twickenham, urging them to be more “community minded”, and our requests for action to both the London and Southwark Dioceses and directly to all the schools, so far not one has decided to change its policy as far as we know. Yet the Church appoints the majority of the governors.’

Notes

For further comment please contact BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on 07738 435 059 or Accord Coalition Chair Jonathan Romain on 07770 722 893 or email info@fairadmissions.org.uk. For further information please contact Accord Coalition Coordinator Paul Pettinger on 020 7324 3071.

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.