As the new school year starts and new schools open, thousands more children and parents are subjected to religiously restricted admissions criteria in order to gain admittance to their local state school. The Fair Admissions Campaign has calculated that 5,788 religiously restricted places are opening at brand new schools this term, and it is likely that other schools with religious admissions criteria are also expanding their numbers. The Campaign has expressed regret at the news.
17 new Free Schools are opening with religiously restricted admissions criteria, including three Church of England, one Roman Catholic, one Greek Orthodox, three other Christian, three Jewish, three Muslim and three Sikh schools. Free Schools are not permitted to select more than half of their pupils on the basis of faith, but between them it is estimated that once they are filled these schools will have 4,598 places that are subject to religious admissions criteria.
In addition, St Richard Reynolds Catholic College, a new Voluntary Aided secondary school in the London Borough of Richmond, will have 1,190 restricted places. Last year it was the subject of the first ever legal challenge against a new school because of religious selection.
Jeremy Rodell, spokesperson for the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, commented, ‘We have just issued a school-by-school analysis showing the way faith-based discrimination at primary level means non-churchgoing parents are denied choice when they are trying to find places for their children at existing local state-funded primaries. It seems perverse to make that worse by adding even more faith-based places to the system, both in our borough and around the county, especially when the government knows this type of discrimination is opposed by the public by more than four to one.’
Professor Ted Cantle CBE of the iCoCo Foundation commented, ‘Around one-quarter of schools in England are of a religious character and some of these are highly selective and segregate children on the basis of faith. We should be breaking down barriers and encouraging integration and understanding rather than making the problem worse. Schools should be part of the solution to prejudice and extremism, not part of the problem.’
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, commented, ‘At a time when school places are severely limited, it seems unfair that those from a particular faith can jump ahead of the queue in state-funded schools where all are supposed to be equal; it highlights the urgency of reassessing the way faith schools operate in society.’
See the figures for the amount of religious selection by newly opening Free Schools: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Amount-of-religious-selection-by-2013-Free-Schools.xlsx.