Challenge new religiously selective schools

Is a new religiously selective school proposed in your area? This page sets out how you can go about challenging this selection. We would recommend that this is done by organising a local campaign group, as you are much more likely to succeed by working with others in a coordinated fashion.

The first issue to consider is that different types of school are established in different ways. We’ve set out in detail the law and processes of school organisation for England and for Wales on separate pages, considering the different routes through which Free Schools, Voluntary Aided schools, Voluntary Controlled schools and Foundation schools can open. We also consider schools changing their type of establishment, gaining a religious character, increasing their age range, closing or amalgamating.

Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign has helpfully provided a case study of their own experience campaigning against (and ultimately judicially reviewing) proposals to establish two highly religiously selective schools in Richmond-upon-Thames.

With that said, your campaign around fair admissions will be very different in tone depending upon what specifically is proposed. You should be able to find out the details from information published by the proposer or by asking them.

What type of school is being proposed?

Proposals for Free Schools are difficult to challenge in that the consultation process is shorter and less transparent than for other types of school, and the proposer runs and adjudicates the outcome of the consultation. In addition, Free Schools are at least 50% inclusive in admissions, which is to be welcomed. This may make the other 50% of places harder to argue for, as some will consider that a compromise position has already been reached. However, the arguments used by the proposers in support of the 50% inclusive places may also be applicable to the other 50% so this may make things easier. Proposals for maintained schools (i.e. voluntary aided, voluntary controlled or foundation schools) require more consultation over a longer period than proposals for Free Schools, which has the advantage that there is more time to build opposition to selective admissions policies and more chances to make your voice heard. Voluntary controlled school proposals are different from other types of school in that the admissions authority will be the local authority and not the school itself. It is obviously different to be appealing to a local authority for inclusive admissions than to be appealing to a religious body that is responsible for state funded schools. Most local authorities do not allow VC schools in their area to religiously select.

How is the proposal being made?

Proposals made in competitions might be easier to challenge in that there could well be inclusive proposals alongside religiously selective proposals, and these can be highlighted and their inclusivity supported. It’s always good to have a positive alternative. Proposals for maintained schools outside of competition, typically for voluntary aided schools, can be quite difficult to challenge as well as while there is ample consultation, there are no positive alternatives to highlight and often the local authority has already decided it will work in support of the proposal before the process begins. From 2007 to 2012, all proposals to open maintained religious schools outside of competition were approved, but this doesn’t mean they all have selective admissions. Proposals for schools to change their type of establishment, gain a religious character or to close might be slightly easier to challenge in that this will involve taking existing schools and making them more discriminatory, as opposed to adding something extra that did not previously exist.

 Whereabouts is the school being proposed?

Proposals in urban areas may be proposals in areas with a racially and socio-economically diverse populous. As the proposal may well be likely to increase segregation on these grounds, arguments that touch upon them may therefore resonate more than elsewhere. Proposals in rural areas may mean that some pupils are unable to get into the only school in their area. For the only local school in an area to refuse to admit local children is very unfair and may be hugely inconvenient.

 Which faith group is behind the proposal?

The Church of England sees its schools as being intended to serve their local community, with some individual Dioceses such as the Diocese of London advocating that all new schools have fully inclusive places. Arguments about fairness and inclusivity may have some mileage. The Catholic Church considers Catholic schools as being for children of Catholics and consequentially almost all of its schools religiously select. The Methodist Church claims that its schools ‘are fully inclusive with pupils of all faiths and none’. This isn’t always reflected in its schools’ admissions policies. Other faith groups vary depending upon who the exact proposer is. Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Sikh groups have all shown willingness to accept at least 50% inclusive schools as all have established Free Schools. But individual proposers and proposals will vary.

 What will the school’s admissions policy be?

Proposals for fully inclusive schools, whether they are inclusive faith schools or schools without a religious character, are not opposed by the Fair Admissions Campaign, and neither type is preferred. They should be supported when they are competing against more discriminatory proposals.