Monthly Archives: February 2016

Department for Education acknowledges 87% of objections to school admissions labelled ‘vexatious’ by Education Secretary were upheld by adjudicator

In response to a parliamentary question tabled in the House of Lords, the Department for Education (DfE) has at last conceded that the overwhelming majority of objections submitted to school admission policies by the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) and British Humanist Association (BHA) correctly identified breaches of the law. The DfE recently moved to ban civil society organisations from formally raising concerns about the admission arrangements of schools largely in response to a report published by the FAC and BHA revealing that virtually all religious selective schools in England are breaking the law, and went as far as describing the objections submitted by the BHA and FAC as ‘vexatious’. Despite this, in his response to the question tabled by Baroness Meacher, the Schools Minister Lord Nash acknowledged that ‘since 2012, 87% of all objections submitted to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) by secularist campaign groups were upheld or partially upheld’.

The FAC, which maintains that its role has always been to represents and support parents in their efforts to navigate the admissions system, has once again called on the Government to urgently reconsider its proposal before a consultation on the Code is launched later this year.

In addition to the answer given by Lord Nash in the House of Lords, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has also acknowledged the important role played by the FAC in improving the school admissions system for parents. Responding to a letter written by BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson opposing the ban, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said ‘I am grateful for the work that you and your colleagues on the Fair Admissions Campaign have put into highlighting examples of non-compliance with the School Admissions Code’, also writing that she is aware of the support that the BHA has given in the past to parents who have concerns about the admission arrangements of their local schools.

The comments appear to be at odds with the DfE’s description of the objections submitted by the FAC as ‘vexatious’ just a few weeks ago, and lend support to the increasing opposition to the proposed ban expressed by parliamentarians, other organisations such as Mumsnet and the Institute for Community Cohesion Foundation, and the wider public.  Indeed, the 87% figure cited by the Government refers to the number of individual objections submitted by the FAC since 2012 that have been upheld, not the number of cases. The proportion of schools in which at least one violation of the Code was correctly identified is even higher, standing at 96%.

BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘In light of the Government’s recognition of the important role that we have played in identifying schools that are failing to comply with the School Admissions Code, both the characterisation of this role as “vexatious” and the wider move to ban us from performing it in the future is ill-conceived.

‘To be clear, the investigation we carried out looked only at a representative sample of religiously selective schools in England, and whilst the admission arrangements in all of those schools have now improved as a result of our work, the problems we highlighted continue to be prominent and concerning features of the system as a whole. Given that these problems directly result in parents and children being denied fair access to their local schools, we hope the Government will drop its proposed ban and we will certainly continue to encourage them to do that as part of our wider campaign against religious discrimination in school admissions.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact the Fair Admissions Campaign on info@fairadmissions.org.uk or 020 7324 3078.

See the FAC’s previous news item ‘Parliamentarians and wider public denounce Government move to ban FAC from raising concerns about schools admissions’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/parliamentarians-and-wider-public-denounce-government-move-to-ban-fac-from-raising-concerns-about-school-admissions/

Read the BHA’s letter to the Secretary of State: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016-01-28-Letter-from-the-BHA.pdf

Read the Secretary of State’s response: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Letter-from-Nicky-Morgan-to-Andrew-Copson-19-02-2016.pdf

Read the Department for Education’s press release announcing the proposed ban: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/parents-to-get-greater-say-in-the-school-admissions-process

Read the FAC’s previous news item ‘Government moves to ban organisations from exposing law-breaking schools unfairly restricting access to children and parents’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/government-moves-to-ban-organisations-from-exposing-law-breaking-schools-unfairly-restricting-access-to-children-and-parents/

Read the BHA’s comment piece in the Independent ‘Is Nicky Morgan on the side of children or faith organisations’: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/is-nicky-morgan-on-the-side-of-children-or-faith-organisations-a6837811.html

Read the FAC report ‘An Unholy mess: How virtually all religiously selective schools are breaking the law: https://humanism.org.uk/2015/10/01/an-unholy-mess-new-report-reveals-near-universal-noncompliance-with-school-admissions-code-among-state-faith-schools-in-england/

Read the FAC’s briefing on the report: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/anunholymess-briefing/

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.

Parliamentarians and wider public denounce Government move to ban FAC from raising concerns about school admissions

Following an announcement made by the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan last month that she plans to ban charities and other civil society organisations from formally raising concerns about the admission arrangements of schools, members of both the House of Commons and House of Lords have moved to robustly challenge the proposal and demand that it be scrapped. Since the announcement was made by the Education Secretary, who explicitly described the ban as an attempt to ‘stop vexatious complaints against faith schools by secularist campaign groups’, nearly 40 questions have been tabled in Parliament by MPs and peers from a range of parties, many of whom have joined more than a thousand people around England in writing to the Department for Education (DfE) about the issue.

The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC), which has previously described the proposal as ‘an affront to both democracy and the rule of law’, has repeated its call for the policy to be withdrawn.

In what represents a thinly veiled attack on the work of the FAC, the proposed ban is primarily a response to a report published jointly by the FAC and British Humanist Association (BHA) last year revealing a widespread failure to adhere to the School Admissions Code by religiously selective schools. The report, entitled An Unholy Mess: How virtually all religiously selective schools are breaking the law, detailed the rulings of the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) on the admission arrangements of a small sample of religiously selective schools, and found widespread violations of the Code in every case, adding credence to long-held concerns that parents are being denied fair access to state schools due to the cynical way in which religious selection is carried out by some ‘faith’ schools.

Disappointingly, the Government has largely chosen not to engage with the very real concerns about the proposal expressed by parliamentarians and parents, and instead has almost invariably produced vague and deflective answers in response to their questions. For instance, specifically challenged by Baroness Meacher on the question of how the FAC’s objections, almost all of which were upheld by the Adjudicator, could be described as ‘vexatious’, the Government simply repeated its announcement and stated that ‘The Department will conduct a full public consultation in due course and will give careful consideration to all the views expressed in that consultation.’

As well as Baroness Meacher, parliamentary questions have been tabled by Lord Harrison, Baroness Lister, Baroness Massey, Viscount Ridley, Jeff Smith MP, and Lord Warner, and a number of other parliamentarians have also sent letters to the DfE.

The response from the wider public against the move has been just as strong, and the last few weeks have seen over 1,500 people write either to their local MP or directly to Nicky Morgan, expressing their concern that the ban will only lead to an admissions system that is less transparent and in which parents feel less supported. Mumsnet Chief Executive Justine Roberts has also spoken out along similar lines, stating that ‘preventing interested groups from making representations about perceived imperfections of the system doesn’t feel like a particularly constructive way forwards. If anything, it’s likely to add to parental dissatisfaction.’

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘It isn’t surprising that the response to the Government’s proposal on this issue has been overwhelmingly negative. Our report revealed not only that unfairness and injustice is rife in the school admissions system, but also that there is a pervasive lack of transparency and accountability too. The Government’s move to defend the appalling record of religiously-selective schools rather than uphold the rights and fair access of parents and children is therefore utterly bizarre, and really makes a mockery of their claim that they are on the side of families. We will continue to push the Department for Education to drop the proposal, and we hope they will carefully consider the concerns that both parliamentarians and members of the public have expressed.’

Ted Cantle CBE from the ICoCo Foundation also said: ‘The report published by the Fair Admissions Campaign last year illustrates very clearly that admission arrangements are very open to manipulation and abuse, and it is evident that more enforcement of the School Admissions Code is needed, not less. The move to prevent organisations from submitting objections will reduce scrutiny and therefore represents quite a significant backward step.  Parents will lose their right to anonymity and transparency will be significantly curtailed if the proposal goes ahead.’

Notes

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

Read all the parliamentary questions that have been tabled on this issue so far: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/List-of-PQs-tabled-on-admissions-objections-ban.pdf

Read the FAC’s previous news item ‘Government moves to ban organisations from exposing law-breaking schools unfairly restricting access to children and parents’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/government-moves-to-ban-organisations-from-exposing-law-breaking-schools-unfairly-restricting-access-to-children-and-parents/

Read the FAC and BHA’s full report ‘An Unholy Mess: how virtually all religiously selective state schools in England are breaking the law’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/anunholymess/

Read the FAC’s briefing on the report: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/anunholymess-briefing/

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.

Catholic Archdiocesan report highlights religious cheating in admissions

An Archdiocese of Dublin commissioned report has drawn attention to a link between the number of baptisms that the Church conducts and it schools rewarding pupil places on these grounds. In a frank investigation into the Archdiocese’s future position, the international consultancy firm Towers Watson predicted that the numbers attending mass would decline by a third by 2030, but that the number of baptisms conducted would remain steady, noting:

‘We have assumed that the annual number of baptisms will remain stable over the period to 2030. It should be noted that some of the strong correlation between baptisms and birth rates is likely to be due to the preference given to children who are baptised when enrolling in Catholic primary schools. If this requirement is removed at any point prior to 2030, we believe there is likely to be a decline in the number of baptisms each year.’ (p7)

The Archdiocese’s report is of direct relevance to practice in England and Wales, where baptism is similarly the most prevalent religiously selective oversubscription criterion employed by state funded Catholic schools. It also echoes the Church of England commissioned 2014 study ‘The Church Growth Research Programme Report on Strands 1 and 2‘, which cited religiously selective state funded Church of England schools as having potential to drive growth:

‘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 oversubscribed. 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.’ (p23-24) ‘Middle class suburbs with church schools … offer great opportunities’ (p26)

Fair Admissions Campaign Steering Group member, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘The Archdiocese’s report acknowledges that religiously selective admission arrangements are being abused, and so highlights the need for strong school safeguards to deal with conflicts of interest between faith schools and their sponsors, with that of the wider society that funds the schools. The report is short cited however in not alerting the problem that issues such as religious cheating and privilege caused by religiously selective admission arrangements present to the Church itself.

‘Far from shoring up its position in society, the cheating and discrimination towards children serves to undermine its reputation and is self defeating. This should be realised by all groups that sponsor religiously selective state funded faith schools. Ultimately, inclusivity by state funded faith schools serves everyone’s best interests.’

Notes
A link between religious selection and socio-economic selection, and its impact in boosting faith school performance, has long been established. Abuse of religiously selective admission arrangements has also been found to have a socio-economic bias.

A 2012 YouGov survey commissioned by The Sutton Trust found that 6% of all parents in Britain with a child at a state school admitted to attending church services that they would have not otherwise, so that a child could go to a Church School. Among parents of socio-economic group A this figure rose to 10%. A 2015 poll for ITV found 12.6% of parents admitted to ‘having pretended to practice faith in which they did not believe’ with the intention of gaining access to a school, suggesting that the prevalence of religious cheating may be increasing.

Data released by the Pastoral Research Centre in 2014 suggested that baptism may be being manipulated. The Centre showed that, while the number of baptisms of children under the age of one in England and Wales was in long term decline, the number of baptisms of those aged over one had risen quite dramatically over the previous decade. The change is consistent with parents instead having children baptised as the child gets nearer to school age, as part of a strategy to increase their chance of being admitted to a popular Church School.

The Archdiocese’s report, ‘Archdiocese of Dublin: Projection of position in 2030’, was produced in September 2015 and released last month. It can be found at http://www.dublindiocese.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Results-meeting-unprotected.pdf.