Fair Admissions Campaign aims to end religious selection by state schools

All state-funded schools should be open to all children, regardless of their parents’ religion. That’s the message of the Fair Admissions Campaign, a new, widely supported campaign which has launched today. It seeks to bring equity to a system that should be a beacon of fairness, yet is mired in discrimination. The campaign focuses solely on the issue of religious selection in admissions in state schools in England and Wales, and its consequences in terms of religious, racial and ethnic, and social and economic segregation.

The Campaign is launching on the back of three findings announced today in each of the three areas in which faith-based admissions have discriminatory effects:

  • Racial discrimination: A new article by solicitor Dan Rosenburg of Maxwell Gillott and barrister Raj Desai of Matrix Chambers, published in the Education Law Journal, has argued that religious selection by faith schools often constitutes indirect racial discrimination, which may be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. The authors contrast the relatively homogenous era in which faith schools were first established with the increasingly diverse age we are in today, arguing that ‘faith based admissions criteria may place individuals from a racial group at a particular disadvantage compared to persons without this protected characteristic. Unless this indirect discrimination can be justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, such arrangements will also be unlawful pursuant to [the Equality Act].’ This could have far reaching implications for popular religiously selective schools and especially those in densely populated or racially mixed areas.
  • Socio-economic discrimination: Over the next few months, the Campaign will also be mapping state schools by their admissions policies, identifying the most religiously and socio-economically selective schools, areas and Dioceses. Initial work focusing on socio-economic selection has found that secondary schools without a religious character have on average 26% more pupils eligible for free school meals than the first half of their post code and 30% more pupils eligible than their local authority. In contrast, Roman Catholic secondary schools have 20% fewer pupils in receipt of free school meals than the average for their postcode and 23% fewer for the average for their local authority. Voluntary Aided Church of England secondary schools have 8% and 18% fewer than the average for their post code and local authority respectively. Most Church schools were set up to serve children from poor families, so serving the better off in their community is a distortion to their original mission.
  • Religious discrimination: The Church of England’s London Diocesan Board for Schools has told the Campaign that ‘Our policy is to encourage our Church of England Schools to have half open places and half foundation places. For the new schools we are promoting we are going for all open places’. The Campaign is pleased to welcome this initial step and would like to encourage other Dioceses to adopt similar approaches.

Professor Ted Cantle CBE is the founder of the Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo) and author of ‘The Cantle Report’, commissioned and published by the Home Office after 2001’s summer of race riots. Supporting the launch of the campaign, Professor Cantle commented, ‘One of the key issues which the world now faces is “how we live together in an era of globalised and diverse communities?” It must be clear – especially from recent events – that so many of the tensions and conflicts in the UK and elsewhere are based upon faith and ethnic divisions. Our communities remain riven by the differences which we should be learning to set aside. Religiously selective schools cannot of course be held solely responsible for these problems, but they do underpin a system in which children learn that they are “different” and in which everyday contact is denied. They do not build friendships with “others” and the separation of children within schools reinforces wider divisions, as parents do not meet at the school gate and families are not drawn together through shared sporting and cultural events.

‘In a time of growing extremism, we need to recognise that religiously selective schools are an anachronistic bastion of a divided society. And instead of moving towards the integration of our communities, we are introducing more divides through a growing number of minority faith schools with selective admission policies.’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education and Minister of Maidenhead Synagogue, commented ‘Whether you are religious or secular, a key value is fairness and we can all sign up to “Thou shalt not discriminate between one child and another” – yet that is exactly what happens with current admission procedures: we not only divide children according to their belief systems, but teach them a terrible lesson about us and them and at the very age when we should be promoting inclusivity and equality. It is the wrong message and at precisely the wrong time.’

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, commented ‘Again and again the public have expressed their opposition to discriminatory school admissions. One survey carried out last year showed that public opposition was as great as four to one. It’s time that the reality caught up with popular opinion and religious selection is consigned to history.’

Jeremy Rodell is Chair of the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC), which last year took the first ever judicial review against a proposed new school because of religious selection. Commenting on the launch, Mr Rodell said, ‘There is intense competition for places at good schools, especially in London. Yet locally we’ve found that over a third of primary school places are at schools applying some degree of faith-based selection. And even new schools to apply religious discrimination to up to 100% of their places. So some parents have a far wider choice than others, and our schools are more segregated than the areas they cover. That cannot be right. We need a strong and united national voice working with local campaigners on this issue, so RISC strongly supports the Fair Admissions Campaign. The time has come to end this unfair – and internationally unusual – practice one and for all.’


For further comment please contact Accord Coalition Coordinator Paul Pettinger on 020 7324 3071, BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on 07738 435 059, or email info@fairadmissions.org.uk.

Visit the Fair Admissions Campaign website at https://fairadmissions.org.uk/

More information about the issue of socio-economic selection can be found on its ‘Why is this an issue?’ (https://fairadmissions.org.uk/why-is-this-an-issue/) and ‘FAQs’ (https://fairadmissions.org.uk/why-is-this-an-issue/faqs/) pages.

The Campaign is already being supported by the Accord Coalition, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the British Humanist Association, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Professor Ted Cantle CBE and the iCoCo Foundation, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association (affiliated to the Labour Party), and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

The Campaign aims to provide support and advice to parents and carers who have been discriminated against because of the existing school system – unable to get their children into their local school or the best school in their area without resorting to gaming the system. As well as providing this advice, the Campaign offers a range of ways that individuals will be able to get involved, for example by forming local campaign groups and challenging admissions policies at the schools adjudicator.

The Campaign is led by a steering group whose members currently include the Accord Coalition, the BHA, Ted Cantle and RISC.

Read Dan Roseburg and Raj Desai’s paper: https://fairadmissions.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/2013_Ed_Law_93.pdf

View the top-level data on socio-economic selection by type of school: https://fairadmissions.org.uk/schools-map/

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.