Are you facing the prospect of your child being unable to gain admittance to your local school, because of religious selection? Or have you had to game the system in order to get them in? Are you happy to live in a society in which children are discriminated against on these grounds, while parents feel compelled to behave in this manner?

This situation is clearly unfair, and that’s what we’re here to challenge. We are a new campaign that is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations, aiming to tackle the single issue of religious selection in school admissions.

You can find advice for parents and ways you can get involved in the Campaign as well as more about us and why this is an issue that urgently needs addressing.

Families in Dublin march against religious discrimination in faith school admissions

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Over 600 people in Dublin have taken part in a demonstration against inaction of the Irish Government and Parliament to end religious discrimination in pupil admissions in the country’s state funded school system.

The march was prompted by an announcement last month from Ireland’s recently appointed Education Minister Richard Bruton that, rather than making faith school admission policies more religiously inclusive, the Government would be seeking to speed up its plans to open more multi-denominational and non-faith schools. The demonstration also followed the Irish Parliament’s decision last month to delay by 12 months further consideration of a private members Bill that would moderate the extent to which faith schools can discriminate against local children where the school serves as the main local school.

The march was organised by the recently established group Education Equality, which campaigns to ensure all state funded schools in the Republic of Ireland are made open and accessible to people of all religious and non-religious beliefs. Around 95% of Irish state funded schools are faith schools, and 90% are under the patronage of the Catholic Church.

At the start of June a group of Catholic educationalists in Ireland urged that their schools reserve 10% of places for non-Catholics. Ireland and the UK are among the small minority of developed countries that permit any form of religious discrimination in the selection of pupils to state funded schools.

Fair Admissions Campaign Group Steering Group member and Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘Opting not to make existing schools more open and suitable to those of different beliefs, but to instead open more schools that cater to those of certain groups, is a recipe for entrenching segregation and division. This approach should be recognised as both socially irresponsible and a surrender to narrow interests.

‘The recent suggestion from a group of Irish Catholic educators that their schools should admit a small proportion of non-Catholics was very modest. However, it should serve to highlight – in Ireland and elsewhere – the potential for a consensus to emerge when participants examine their shared commitment to the common good.’

 

Notes

Most developed countries do not permit state funded faith schools to select pupils by faith

A 2012 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that the Republic of Ireland and UK were among the very small number of OECD member countries that permit religious selection at state schools (table 2.3 p15). Our own research has reinforced this finding.

The OECD identified Estonia and Israel as also having religiously selective state funded schools. In some Canadian provinces there are publicly funded Catholic schools that can refuse admission to non-Catholics before high school. We are also aware that in Germany a small number of private religious schools receive state funds and can religiously select. In the Netherlands private faith schools that receive state funding can loosely require that pupils and parents support the mission/vision of the school. But it is not aware of any other countries. Countries with strong religious traditions, such as Italy, Spain, Poland and the USA, do not have religious discrimination in admissions to any state-funded schools. We lists ten reasons why religious selection in pupil admissions should be opposed here.

70 Rabbis call for inclusive school admissions in challenge to Chief Rabbi

Rabbis from across the UK have written an open letter to the new Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening opposing calls made by the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis for new ‘faith’ schools to be allowed to select all of their places on the basis of religion. The Chief Rabbi has reportedly been putting significant pressure on the Government to drop the requirement that all new Free Schools must leave 50% of their places open to children in the local community, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs. The group of Rabbis who have written to the Education Secretary, however, say that the requirement benefits both ‘the children concerned and the society into which they will emerge and help shape’. The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC), which brings together a wide range of groups opposed to religious discrimination in school admissions, has welcomed the letter.

Currently, new Free Schools are only able to select up to half of their places with reference to religion, a policy which in the words of the Department for Education (DfE) is designed to ‘help tackle segregation and ensure young people will experience the diversity of religious beliefs that make up modern Britain’. The Chief Rabbi has publicly disagreed with this approach, however, and only this month a spokesperson for his office stated that Jewish schools should provide ‘a completely immersive Jewish environment – something which is far more challenging if the 50 per cent rule associated with free schools is applied’.

The letter, signed by 68 Rabbis, was initiated by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue, who is also chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education which campaigns for ‘faith’ school reform. Contrary to comments made by the Chief Rabbi, it states that ‘Jewish values can happily co-exist with social cohesion’ in education, and that an open, non-discriminatory admissions policy achieves a ‘balance’ so that children can gain ‘both a sense of religious roots and openness to others’.

The Office of the Chief Rabbi is not the only religious organisation to have been lobbying the Government to drop the 50% cap. The Catholic Education Service has long called for such a move, with Director Paul Barber stating earlier this year that the Catholic Church would continue to ‘ask the Government to remove the barriers’ which currently left them ‘unable to engage’ in the Free Schools programme.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said, ‘The 50% cap communicates that state funded schools should seek to be shared spaces and shows faith schools do not need to discriminate to maintain their religious ethos. To remove it risks sending a terrible signal affirming that religious identities and beliefs must be in antagonism with one another. As the cap has operated with ease since 2010, it should be extended to all state funded faith schools, to help better promote integration and harmony.’

Faith Schools Campaigner at the British Humanist Association (BHA) Jay Harman commented, ‘The amount of pressure that the “religious lobby” has been putting on Government to allow their schools to be more discriminatory and more divisive is both inappropriate and entirely out-of-step with efforts to improve integration in the education system. What this letter shows is that the position of these groups is also entirely out-of-step with the majority of religious people, who evidently believe that social cohesion and mutual understanding are best served by schools which are inclusive, open, and diverse. We hope the new Education Secretary will pay close attention to the views expressed in this letter, and in addition to keeping the 50% rule will consider going further by introducing requirements on schools to be even more inclusive in their admission arrangements.’

Notes

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

Read the FAC’s previous news item ‘Cross-party group of MPs call for further limits to faith school’s ability to religiously discriminate in admissions’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/cross-party-group-of-mps-call-for-further-limits-to-faith-schools-ability-to-religiously-discriminate-in-admissions/

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 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.

Peers critical of Government ban on FAC helping parents challenge unlawful school admissions

In a debate in the House of Lords yesterday afternoon, parliamentarians once again voiced their opposition to the Government’s proposed ban on civil society organisations raising concerns about schools’ unlawful admission arrangements. The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC), whose joint report with the British Humanist Association (BHA) published last year revealed that virtually all religiously selective schools in England were failing to comply with the School Admissions Code, says parents and children ‘will be the only ones to lose out’ if the ban goes ahead, and has called on the Government to reverse its decision.

Limits on who will be allowed to object to school admissions arrangements were proposed earlier this year by the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who claimed that the move was designed to ‘stop vexatious complaints against faith schools by secularist campaign groups’. However, after over 60 questions were tabled in Parliament on the issue by MPs and peers from a range of parties, Schools Minister Lord Nash was forced to admit that the overwhelming majority (87%) of the FAC’s and BHA’s objections to the admission arrangements of religiously selective schools had been upheld.

Indeed, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, to whom objections to school admission arrangements must be submitted, found at least one violation in every school that the investigation covered. These violations included schools directly discriminating on the basis of race and gender, failing to properly prioritise children in care, and unlawfully asking for information that they did not need, such as parents’ countries of origin, their medical history, or whether or not they spoke English as a second language.

Except for the Minister responding to the debate, Baroness Evans, every peer who contributed to the debate was critical of the Government’s proposals. Shadow Education Spokesperson Lord Watson described the ban as ‘a clear case of shoot the messenger rather than address the problem’, while Baroness Massey labelled it as ‘counterproductive’ and ‘a nonsense’. Echoing these comments, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Lord Storey commented that far from being ‘vexatious’, it was thanks to the FAC and BHA ‘that many wrongs have been righted’, and Lord Desai added that the BHA’s work on admissions was ‘for the good of the education system’. Lord Taverne also contributed, stating that ‘the complexity of some schools’ admissions policies seems designed to confuse and mislead.’

The FAC’s Richy Thompson said, ‘The message in Parliament last night was clear. Schools that seek to bend admission rules to manipulate their intakes must be held to account. The report we published last year may be an inconvenient truth for the faith school sector, but the Department for Education’s decision to back the law breakers, punish the whistleblowers, and seemingly ignore the rights of children altogether, is nonsensical. We’re glad that those speaking in last night’s debate agree and we will continue to push not only for the ban to be reversed but also for a fairer and more transparent admissions system to be introduced.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact the FAC on info@fairadmissions.org.uk or 020 7324 3078.

Read the full debate: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2016-05-11/debates/16051156000172/SchoolAdmissionsCode

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.

Cross-party group of MPs call for further limits to faith school’s ability to religiously discriminate in admissions

A cross-party group of MPs have this week tabled an Early Day Motion urging for the current limit restricting faith free schools from selecting no more than half of their pupils by faith to be extended to all other state funded schools, to help boost integration and community cohesion in society. The Early Day Motion seeks to draw the attention of other MPs to the issue.

Fair Admissions Campaign Steering Group member, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘Many faith free schools still exclude children on religious grounds and some admit a very homogeneous intake. However, the call for the 50% cap to be extended to other state funded faith schools is to be welcomed as a stepping stone towards greater reform, and highlights the growing consensus opposed to faith discrimination in society.’

The 50% faith free schools cap is, like the Early Day Motion, the subject of cross-party support. The cap was implemented by the coalition Government in May 2010 and has since remained as Government policy. The policy built on the approach of Labour’s last Secretary of State for Education, Ed Balls, whereby most of the final tranches of faith based academy schools approved under his tenure were required to adhere to a 50% faith selection limit. Attempts to prevent faith schools operating exclusive admission arrangements have however come under brutal attack.

Despite calls for it to soften its position, the Catholic Church of England and Wales continues to boycott the free schools programme in protest at the 50% selection rule. This is despite two private Catholic schools having already reopened as free schools, most private Roman Catholic schools in England and Wales not operating a religiously selective admission policy, and most state funded school systems in the developed world with faith schools not permitting schools to select pupils by faith. This includes many schools that are Roman Catholic. In January a group of sixteen civil society groups signed an open letter calling for the existing 50% cap to remain in place.

 

Notes

The Early Day Motion states:

That this House acknowledges that mutual trust and understanding between people of different backgrounds grows when they are schooled together, which also benefits social cohesion in society at large; and therefore urges that the current policy where new faith free schools in England cannot select more than half their pupils on faith grounds is extended to all types of state-funded faith schools.

The academic evidence base has consistently shown a clear and positive contribution to social integration from ethnic mixing in schools.

A 2012 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that the UK was one of only a very few OECD member countries that permit religious selection at state schools (table 2.3 p15). Research by the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) has reinforced this finding. The OECD identified that the Republic of Ireland, Estonia and Israel as having religiously selective state funded schools. In some Canadian provinces there are publicly funded Catholic schools that can refuse admission to non-Catholics before high school. The FAC are also aware that in Germany, a small number of private religious schools receive state funds and can religiously select. In the Netherlands, private faith schools that receive state funding can loosely require that pupils and parents support the mission/vision of the school. But we are not aware of any other countries. Countries with strong religious traditions, such as Italy, Spain and Poland, do not have religious discrimination in admissions to any state-funded schools.

Religiously selective schools that shun poorer pupils celebrated on DfE award shortlist

The Department for Education (DfE) has named three religiously selective schools on its shortlist of schools that are in the running for this year’s Pupil Premium Award, despite the fact that all three they take far fewer children eligible for free school meals than they should given the local area they are situated in. The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) has criticised the shortlist and highlighted once again the appalling record of religiously selective schools in serving poorer families in their communities.

The pupil premium was introduced in 2011 to provide additional funding to state-funded schools so as to improve the attainment of pupils from poorer backgrounds, and the awards were set up to celebrate schools that make best use of this funding to ‘help disadvantaged young people reach their potential’. However, they only take into account the performance of the pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who are in attendance at the school, and not the number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds that the school actually admits. Therefore a school could be highly socio-economically selective and still perform strongly.

In line with figures produced by the FAC showing that religiously selective schools are, across the country as a whole, overwhelmingly less inclusive of children from poorer backgrounds than schools that don’t religiously select, the three religiously selective secondary schools on the shortlist were found to take an average of 12 percentage points fewer children eligible for free school meals (FSM) than would be representative of their local area. This compares to the broadly representative figures for the schools on the list that don’t religiously select, which on average actually take 2 per cent more children eligible for FSM than are in their area.

School name Religious selection School FSM eligibility Local area FSM eligibility Percentage difference
La Retraite RC Girls’ School All places 13.6% 32.09% -18.49%
Ripley St Thomas CofE Academy All places 4% 13.38% -9.38%
St Wilfrid’s RC College All places 13.9% 22.38% -8.48%
Healing Science Academy None 5.9% 8.22% -2.32%
Great Torrington School None 10.1% 10.28% -0.18%
Caroline Chisholm School None 3.1% 3.86% -0.85%
Maiden Erlegh School None 4.4% 4.30% +0.1%
St Albans Girls’ School None 6.9% 3.96% +2.94%
Selly Park None 38.9% 25.23% +13.7%

Richy Thompson of the British Humanist Association commented, ‘It’s amazing that out of all the schools in the country, the Department for Education has chosen to praise three religiously selective schools for the support they give to disadvantaged pupils, while ignoring the fact that all three of them take far fewer children from disadvantaged backgrounds than they should given the areas they’re in.

‘The Government urgently needs to review the criteria by which the Pupil Premium Awards are judged, and we can only hope that shortlisting these schools will not serve to disincentivise other schools from taking steps to become more inclusive in the future.’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Chair of the Accord Coalition, commented, ‘It is now well-documented that religious selection almost always acts a proxy for socio-economic selection, so it is astonishing that these three schools are on this shortlist. The Government should be encouraging schools that demonstrate inclusivity, rather than legitimising discrimination. This award has become a wasted opportunity to do that.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Jay Harman on 0207 324 3078 or info@fairadmissions.org.uk.

See the FAC’s map showing religious and socio-economic selection in English secondary schools: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map/

Read the FAC’s news item ‘Groundbreaking new research maps the segregating impact of faith school admissions’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/groundbreaking-new-research-maps-the-segregating-impact-of-faith-school-admissions/

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.