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.’
For further comment or information, please contact the Fair Admissions Campaign on firstname.lastname@example.org 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’: https://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’: https://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: https://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 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.