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.