The Catholic Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales has issued a statement setting out their hostility to the 50% cap on religious selection by Free Schools. In the statement, the Bishops argue that 100% religious selection is necessary in order to ‘the conditions required to ensure a distinctive Catholic education remain the… [control of] admissions arrangements’. However, the Fair Admissions Campaign has pointed to evidence faith-based selection is unnecessary for a religious school to maintain its ethos.
The statement says: ‘The Bishops’ Conference recognises that, in the circumstances prevailing in England and Wales, the conditions required to ensure a distinctive Catholic education remain the ownership of the school or college site, the appointment of the majority of governors, admissions arrangements, the RE curriculum and its inspection, worship, and the employment of staff. Accordingly, the Bishops’ Conference takes the view that the imposition of a 50% cap on the control of admissions is not a secure basis for the provision of a Catholic school and urges dioceses to resist any pressure to establish a school on that basis. The Bishops’ Conference mandates the Catholic Education Service to continue to press the government and politicians to modify this policy so that it no longer places a disproportionate disadvantage on the Catholic community.’
However, many Church of England schools do not religiously select, and yet continue to be able to maintain their ethos. For example, in defence of making their schools more inclusive, the Diocese of London recently rejected the notion that fully open admissions would dilute their religious ethos by saying that ‘Their Christian values are written through them like a stick of rock’. Whereas Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently said that ‘There are unbelievably brilliant [CofE] schools that are entirely open to all applicants without selection criteria apart from residence, where you live, and which produce staggeringly good results. It’s a question of — and you can point to them all over the place — it’s a question of outstanding leadership.’
There are also a growing number of Catholic schools that do not fully religiously select in admissions. There are two Roman Catholic Free Schools, namely St Michael’s Catholic Secondary School in Cornwall and St Anthony’s School in Gloucestershire. A third, Trinity Academy in Lambeth, is being proposed, but the local diocese has told the proposers that due to its admissions policy, it considers that it ‘is not a Catholic school’. In response, the lead proposer commented that ‘In our initial exploratory talks with the Catholic Education Service we were alarmed by the vehement hostility some senior figures within Catholic education displayed towards Michael Gove and his reforms. It was really over the top.’
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Chair of the Accord Coalition, commented, ‘At a time when many people of goodwill, be they religious or secular, believe that it is right for children of different traditions to mix and grow up together, it is both surprising and sad that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference is trying to raise the drawbridge and isolate them from each other. It is hard to imagine their founder adopting the same stance, while it certainly contradicts the command to love your neighbour as yourself.’
Jeremy Rodell, Chair of the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, commented, ‘The Catholic Church has just opened a new secondary school in Twickenham after a long battle about its admissions policy. 3,500 local people from a whole range of backgrounds signed a petition seeking inclusive admissions at the school. But the Council and the Church pushed through a Voluntary Aided school with up to 100% faith based discrimination by exploiting a legal loophole kept open by the Department for Education to enable the Church to circumvent the “50% rule”. No other organisation expects this kind of privilege.’
For further comment please contact Accord Coalition Chair Jonathan Romain on 07770 722 893 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information please contact Accord Coalition Coordinator Paul Pettinger on 020 7324 3071.
The London Oratory School, a Roman Catholic secondary in Fulham, is currently challenging through the Department for Education a decision by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator that it must remove its ‘Catholic service criterion’ from its admissions policy, a decision that was reached following a complaint by the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2013/11/05/london-oratory-school-challenges-schools-adjudicators-decision-must-rewrite-admissions-policy/
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.