Monthly Archives: March 2014

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. 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 these often do not religiously select 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.

Education Minister’s choice of school highlights social exclusion at faith schools

The Fair Admissions Campaign has today highlighted that the Secretary of State for Education, The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, is to send his child to one of the most socially exclusive state schools in the country. Mr Gove’s choice of school, The Grey Coat Hospital School in Westminster, was made known in today’s Daily Telegraph.

Research by the Fair Admissions Campaign in December revealed that The Grey Coat Hospital School is in the 1% least socio-economically inclusive secondary schools in England. Only 14% of the school’s pupils are entitled to free schools meals (a government indicator of deprivation), whereas 33% would be expected to if it admitted local children. Similarly, 48% would be expected to speak English as an additional language if it admitted local children, where only 25% of the school’s pupils do.

The heavily oversubscribed Church of England school priorities 72% of its places on religious grounds and gives applicants extra points in its admissions policy to children who have a ‘Parent holding elected office in the church’, ‘Regular practical involvement by a parent in the church’ and ‘Regular involvement in other aspect of church life’. The Office of the Schools Adjudicator ruled against the school’s admissions policy in November, deciding that this constituted requiring practical support for the Church (which is disallowed) and also as single parent families were not as able to take part in all of extra Church activities that the school rewarded. Grey Coat is now consulting on a new admissions policy that removes these criteria but still proposes to show preference to applicants for being baptised, weekly Church attendance by a parent and the child for five years, as well as a parent being a communicant member of the Church and on its electoral roll.

More generally the Campaign’s research also found a strong correlation between how religiously selective a faith school is and the inclusivity of its intake. Church of England schools that do not select pupils by faith when oversubscribed admitted 1% fewer children entitled to free schools meals than lived locally. In contrast, those schools prepared to select all pupils by faith when oversubscribed admitted 35% fewer children entitled to free schools meals than lived locally.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, said ‘The Education Minister’s choice of school for his child helps draw attention to the level of socio-economic exclusivity at religiously selective schools. Schools such as Grey Coat Hospital are using complex admissions policies to deny the poorest pupils a chance to receive an academically strong education, thereby exacerbating existing divisions. Many people of faith are appalled that schools that should focus on the poor have become so elitist.’

Notes
Research by the Fair Admissions Campaign into the degree of socio-economic selection at state funded secondary schools in England can be found under the drop down tab ‘Show table’ at the ‘Overall averages’ page at http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map/.

The socio-economic bias at religiously selective schools was also further demonstrated in December by a survey by the educational charity the Sutton Trust showing that 10 percent of upper middle class parents admitted to false Church attendance so their child can go to a top performing Church School.