In plans published yesterday, the Government has announced that all new and existing religious free schools will be able to select 100% of their places with reference to religion. Subject to a consultation on the proposal, the current rules that require such schools to leave at least half of their places open to local children, regardless of religion or belief, will be scrapped. The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC), which campaigns for an end to religious discrimination in school admissions, says the move takes the education system in entirely the wrong direction, at a time when we should be encouraging more integration not less.
First introduced under Labour and then extended under the Coalition, the ‘50% cap’ on religious selection in free schools was seen as a significant, though not sufficient, step towards improving integration and inclusion in what has long been a segregated education system. However, despite having been defended by Schools Minister Nick Gibb just a few months ago as being necessary to ‘ensure that pupils receive an inclusive and broad-based education’, the Government has decided to shelve the cap, allow religious schools to become entirely single-faith in their intake, and then introduce new measures to break down the further segregation this will cause.
Polls have consistently revealed that the vast majority of the public – as many as 73% – oppose religious selection of any kind in state-funded schools, and research has found time and time again that religiously selective schools worsen religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation in their local areas.
This has not stopped religious groups from lobbying the Government extensively in recent months to have the cap removed, however, and it appears that this pressure has now taken its toll, despite the fact that many of the arguments employed by these religious groups are demonstrably false. The Catholic Education Service, for instance, has claimed that opening schools that are not fully religiously selective ‘contravenes canon law’, an assertion which forms a significant part of the rationale for the proposals in the Government’s Green Paper. But research recently conducted by the British Humanist Association (BHA) has revealed that the majority of Catholic private schools in England do not give priority to Catholic children for all places, and Catholic state schools in Scotland and internationally tend not to religiously select either.
Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘If, as the government claims, the modest 50% religious discrimination cap at faith free schools has not been effective in promoting religious and ethnic mixing in schools, then this should ring alarm bells and prompt stronger action, not less and removing the tools of integration.
‘In a country that is becoming increasingly diverse, this is exactly the wrong time to give faith schools the power to divide and segregate children. There is a strong argument for extending the 50% religious admissions cap to all schools, not abolishing it. The Government proposal will give a green light to yet more ghettoisation in its school system.’
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson added, ‘It is hard to overstate how damaging these proposals are. Our country is more diverse than it has ever been, but in recent months we have seen that it is also more divided. At a time when we should be doing everything we can to ensure that children from different religious backgrounds can learn with and from one another, and celebrate what they share rather than be told where they differ, the Government has moved to do just the opposite. This is nonsensical, it is irresponsible, it champions the will of the religious lobby over the best interests of children, and it is almost certainly going to lead to the greatest growth in religious segregation in the history of English schools. We will do everything we can to oppose this change, and are encouraging everyone who believes in an inclusive, non-discriminatory education system to do the same.’
For further comment or information please contact the Fair Admissions Campaign on email@example.com or 0207 324 3078.
Read the Government’s green paper, where it sets out the proposals: https://consult.education.gov.uk/school-frameworks/schools-that-work-for-everyone/supporting_documents/SCHOOLS%20THAT%20WORK%20FOR%20EVERYONE%20%20FINAL.pdf
The FAC 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 British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British 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 Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.