What do others think?

Here we present the views of a number of high profile constituencies in the admissions debate.

The public at large

A November 2012 survey by ComRes for the Accord Coalition found 73% of British adults think that ‘state funded schools should not be allowed to select or discriminate against prospective pupils on religious grounds in their admissions policy’. Only 18% thought that they should, whereas 9% were unsure.

2011 research into the views of 5 to 11 year olds by the Children’s Commissioner found that

‘only one in five (20%) children and young people felt that religion (a proxy for faith schools) should be used in admissions criteria and nearly two-thirds (64%) felt religion should not be part of school’s selection criteria (and 16% were unsure). The focus group participants also tended to hold strong views against selection on religious grounds, as; “you shouldn’t be judged on your religion, and everyone should be treated equally” (girl, Year 8). Various participants across the different focus groups described faith-based selection as “racist” and another described it as “discrimination” (girl, Year 10)’

A September 2010 survey by YouGov for ITV gave British adults a list of eleven factors that ‘were important to you when choosing which school to send your child/children to’, and asked them to pick their top three. 66% picked ‘Performance of the school‘, 34% picked ‘How easy it was to get to‘ and 33% picked ‘The area the school was in‘. Only 9% of parents picked ‘Religion of the school’, ranking it eighth amongst the factors. The Fair Admissions Campaign does not take a position on the suitability of the state funding faith schools and is simply drawing attention to this data because it is relevant to any discussion about admissions and parental preferences.

Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, Chair of the Church of England Board of Education and of the National Society

Interviewed by the TES in April 2011, Revd Pritchard said:

‘I’m really committed to our schools being as open as they can be. I know that there are other philosophies that will start at the other end, that say that these are for our church families, but I have never been as convinced of that as others.

‘Every school [should] have a policy that has a proportion of places for church youngsters … what I would be saying is that number ought to be minimised because our primary function and our privilege is to serve the wider community. Ultimately I hope we can get the number of reserved places right down to 10 per cent.

‘I’m quite happy to have good, honest, robust discussions about what church schools are for. It goes back to what we see the mission of the church as being. I don’t think the mission generally is about collecting nice Christians into safe places.’

The comments came ahead of a revision to the Church of England’s admission guidance. However, after a backlash the subsequent advice did not recommend any firm cap on the percentage of places that religiously select, but said:

‘When a governing body reviews its Admissions Policy, it should have regard to the responsibility of all Church schools to be living Christian communities strongly related to the local community. In recognition of the vocation of the Church to transform the world, Church schools should also seek to be inclusive of the wider community. There are a number of ways by which inclusiveness can be interpreted, but all Church schools should ensure that their policies do make that provision. In some cases policies based solely on the immediate, local neighbourhood may not in fact create a diverse community reflective of the wider area and that too needs to be taken into account.

‘Church of England schools should be able to show how their Admissions Policy and practice demonstrates the school’s commitment both to distinctiveness and inclusivity, to church families and the wider community.’

However, a large number of Church of England schools continue to have admissions policies that allow them to fully select pupils on the basis of faith, when sufficiently oversubscribed, so this rhetoric is yet to be met by action.

Diocese of London

The Church of England’s London Diocesan Board for Schools recently told us 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 but everyone coming to the schools will know that they are Church of England Schools with a distinctive Christian ethos.’

The Diocesan Board also recently told The Telegraph, ‘We feel that it is really important to go back to our roots. We think we should be there to serve the community, so we’re really encouraging schools to move towards [open admissions]. Some have embraced it fully and don’t have any admissions criteria other than making the nearest children the priority.’ It also rejected claims that such openness dilutes schools’ ethos: ‘Their Christian values are written through them like a stick of rock’. Our schools map shows that many secondary schools are disappointingly not following the Diocesan Board’s advice.

Diocese of Oxford

The Church of England’s Oxford Diocesan Board of Education confirmed with us in December 2014 that its policy is to encourage its schools to have fully open admissions. They told us that the ‘… Diocese recommends to our schools that admissions criteria should make no reference at all to faith affiliation. If governors feel the need to include it we recommend that it should be low down the list and only relate to filling vacancies with children out of catchment.  In our new schools and our multi-academy trust where we have direct control there is not reference to faith in the admissions criteria.’

Diocese of Lincoln

The Diocesan Board of Education for the Church of England Diocese of Lincoln told us ‘The DBE encourages each school not to employ religious criteria in the school admission policy.

Diocese of Leicester

The Diocese told us in May 2015 that it encourages its schools to provide fully open places.’

Diocese of Chester

 In May 2015 the Diocese told us that they ‘… recommend all schools admit a proportion of local children regardless of faith as appropriate for their situation’. We would wish them to go much further but welcome, as a step forward, their position that schools should not be entirely religiously selective.

Methodist Church of Great Britain

In March 2012, the Methodist Church’s Education Commission published a report in which they said that ‘The Methodist Church has 64 state-funded primary schools and one middle School in England, many of which are in the most deprived areas of the country. All the schools have a Methodist or Methodist/Ecumenical Foundation, serve their local community and are fully inclusive with pupils of all faiths and none.’ They also decided that any proposed Methodist Free Schools must be ‘inclusive’. When the report was adopted in July, the Church again claimed that ‘All the [Methodist] schools have a Christian foundation, serve their local community and are fully inclusive, welcoming pupils of all faiths and none.’

However, unfortunately this doesn’t match up with the reality. There are two Voluntary Aided Methodist schools, Nutgrove Methodist Aided Primary School and Wheatley Lane Methodist Voluntary Aided Primary School. Both schools have admissions criteria that religiously select potentially up to 100% of pupils, if oversubscribed. In addition, the Methodist Church has many schools which are joint with the Church of England, and these also religiously select pupils.

The 2010-2015 coalition Government

Following on from Liberal Democrat policy (see below), the Coalition Agreement adopted in 2010 commits the Government to ‘ensure that all new Academies follow an inclusive admissions policy. We will work with faith groups to enable more faith schools and facilitate inclusive admissions policies in as many of these schools as possible.’

This led to the requirement that Free Schools allocate at least 50% of places without reference to faith. But Free Schools represent a tiny proportion of schools – change needs to be applied to existing schools as well. They do not even represent all new schools – religious groups continue to establish 100% selective Voluntary Aided schools. And a 50% cap, in our opinion, does not go far enough.

The post May 2015 Government

 Despite being strongly lobbied after the May 2015 Election by Roman Catholic officials, the Government stated in the June that:

‘.. we have no plans to review the 50% limit for faith-based admissions to free schools and new provision academies. The government regards the cap as an important way of supporting these schools to be inclusive and to meet the needs of a broad mix of families.’

We think the Government’s 50% cap should be extended to all existing schools, but welcome its commitment to keep it in place for new Academy faith schools (ones that don’t replace a pre-existing state funded school). It affirms that faith schools do not need to discriminate to maintain their religious ethos and shows diversity can work.

Liberal Democrats

At the Liberal Democrat spring conference in 2009, the party adopted a policy paper that states:

‘While we acknowledge that many ‘Faith’ Schools are in practice open to all of the local community, where they are not we recognise the restriction of the rights of other parties who find they cannot get their children into a taxpayer-funded school because of a faith requirement.

‘We are also concerned that faith–based admissions (where that leads to racial and religious segregation of children) could be socially divisive, particularly in the context of the greater ethnic and religious diversity of 21st century Britain. We believe that state funded schools should not be places that reinforce existing divisions within and between communities. We recognise that many faith schools do not apply faith based admissions criteria, but are no less faith schools as a result.’ (pages 24-25)

The conference passed a motion endorsing this paper, and also committing party policy to:

‘Allowing parents and pupils to choose schools, and not schools to choose pupils, by stopping the establishment of new schools which select by ability, aptitude or faith, and by introducing policies radically to reduce all existing forms of selection’

as well as

‘Requiring all existing state-funded faith schools to come forward within five years with plans to demonstrate the inclusiveness of their intakes, with local authorities empowered to oversee and approve the delivery of these plans, and to withdraw state-funded status where inclusiveness cannot be demonstrated’

The 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto subsequently committed the party to:

‘Allow parents to continue to choose faith-based schools within the state-funded sector and allow the establishment of new faith schools. We will ensure that all faith schools develop an inclusive admissions policy’

At the 2010 autumn conference, the party re-asserted its commitment to the 2009 policy paper.

Former Secretaries of State for Education Lord Kenneth Baker and Alan Johnson

In 2006, former Secretary of State for Education Lord Kenneth Baker, by then a Conservative peer, proposed an amendment at the Lords Committee Stage of the Education and Inspections Bill that would have required that ‘at least 30 per cent of pupils admitted to the school are not practising the religion of the school.’ This was debated on 18 July, but withdrawn without vote.

Lord Baker subsequently reintroduced the amendment at the next stage of the Bill, the Lords Report Stage, with the cap now set to 25 per cent of places. By the time this was debated on 17 October, the Church of England had voluntarily committed to in the future giving priority to pupils from other faiths or no faith in 25 per cent of places. In addition, Secretary of State for Education Alan Johnson had decided to support a version of the proposals, but whereby the quota would only be imposed if the local authority or Secretary of State wished it to be. This would be proposed at the final stage of the Bill, the Lords Third Reading. As a result, the amendment was not voted on.

However, in the week between the Report Stage and Third Reading, after extensive lobbying by the Catholic Church, Alan Johnson changed his mind. He instead decided that the quota would be voluntary (i.e. not in law at all) after agreeing with the Catholic Church that it would only be met by them if there was insufficient demand from Catholic families.

Lord Baker instead tabled his own amendment, proposing to do what the Government had intended before the change in heart. This was debated on 30 October, with the Government opposing it and deciding instead to introduce a duty on schools to promote community cohesion and on Ofsted to inspect on this. The matter was put to vote and defeated.

Unfortunately, the community cohesion inspection requirement on Ofsted was withdrawn in 2011, and the Churches did not maintain their commitment for some of their places to be inclusive.

Former Minister of State for Education Baroness Tessa Blackstone

Baroness Tessa Blackstone was Minister of State for Education from 1997-2001. She is now a supporter of the Accord Coalition, which has the aim that ‘All state-funded schools should operate inclusive admissions policies that take no account of pupils’ – or their parents’ – religion or beliefs, and operate recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief.’

Oasis Academy chain

Oasis Community Learning run a chain of 31 Academies and Free Schools, with new schools opening all the time. Oasis are a Christian organisation and many of their schools are designated faith schools. However, at the same time, they have a policy that ‘Our Academies are totally inclusive and operate as community schools open to students of faith and no faith. Equally, our admissions criteria complies with the normal Local Authority criteria.’

We commend Oasis for the thoroughly inclusive approach they have taken to the issue of admissions.