Memorandum submitted by Accord (E 05)

Accord is the national coalition campaigning for inclusive schools and an end to discriminatory legal provisions for state funded religious schools.





1. Accord is a coalition of religious and non religious organisation which campaigns for change to the law governing state funded religious schools ("faith schools"). Accord was launched in September 2008 and counts among its members teaching union ATL, Christian thinktank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy and the British Humanist Association. Accord does not take a position on the principle of whether faith schools should exist but believes that the exemptions given to schools from equalities legislation should be limited.

2. Accord welcomes the Equality Bill in general but is very disappointed that it retains all of the existing exemptions from equality legislation that apply to state funded religious schools. Therefore, although the Bill claims to be eliminating harmful discrimination against people on grounds of their 'religion or belief', it leaves untouched the one area where discrimination on these grounds is most widespread and damaging - in religious schools.

3. The aim of this memorandum is to draw the attention of the committee to the exemptions from "religion or belief" discrimination for schools that this bill seeks to maintain and to show why they are unnecessary. Accord is campaigning for amendments to the Bill on the issues of admissions, staffing and collective worship.

4. Accord would also be interested in giving oral evidence to the committee.


Summary of amendments (in the order that they appear in the Bill)


Amendment 1:

Remove (c) from Para 11 of Schedule 3

[which exempts acts of worship from the provisions of Section 27. Section 27 bans discrimination in service provision].




Amendment 2:

Amend Para 5, Schedule 11 of the Bill so that, with regard to religion or belief, (a), (c), (d) and (e) [state maintained faith schools] are exempted only from Section 80(2)(a) to (d) of the Bill, not from Section 80 (1). This is because Section 80(1) bans discrimination in admissions, which we believe is unjustified. Parts (b), (f) and (g) of Para 5, Schedule 11 apply to independent schools with a religious character and should remain exempted, but under (b) after "school" insert "other than an academy".

[The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that discrimination in admissions by religion or belief in state maintained schools and academies is subject to the general prohibition on discrimination in education admissions]


Amendment 3:

Remove Para 6, Schedule 11 of the Bill

[which exempts "acts of worship or other religious observance organised by or on behalf of an educational institution (whether or not as part of the curriculum)" from Section 80 (2) (a) to (d), which makes it illegal for schools to discriminate in their treatment of pupils.]


Amendment 4:

Remove (a) and (b) of Para 4 Schedule 22 of the Bill. After (c) insert "except in relation to academy schools."

[Para 4, Schedule 22 exempts from the prohibition against religious discrimination in staffing those actions permitted by the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

This amendment removes that exemption for staff at maintained ((a) and (b)) and academy (c) schools, with the effect that the general ban on employment discrimination in Section 37 applies.

Notwithstanding this, as an organisation with a religious ethos, a faith school would still be able to apply a requirement to be of a particular religion or belief if it is (1) an occupational requirement and (2) a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim (Para 3, Schedule 9).

Amendment 5 below is a related change to the School Standards and Frameworks Act 1998.]


Amendment 5:

Repeal the associated sections of the School Standards and Framework Act (1998), namely Section 58 (6) and (7), and Section 60 (4) and (5).

[These are the sections of the School Standards and Framework Act that relate to amendment 4 above.]


Admissions - See proposed amendment 2 above

5. It is a widely accepted principle that for equalities legislation to be effective it should contain as few exemptions as reasonably possible. The exemptions that allow schools with a religious character to discriminate against potential pupils according to their-or their parents'-religion or belief affect thousands of schools, and consequently many thousands of families. As far as we are aware this, makes faith school admissions the most widespread case of direct discrimination in the provision of a statutory public service.

6. We believe that to be justified, discrimination on this scale by a public authority should be supported by very convincing evidence as to its necessity. We do not believe that such evidence exists.

7. Many faith schools already maintain a religious ethos without discriminatory admissions procedures, although, since data are not collected centrally on admissions, exact numbers are hard to determine. Some of these schools are undersubscribed and thus required to take those students who apply to them, whatever their religion or belief. Others are voluntary controlled schools, which have to follow the admissions criteria written by the local authority and can therefore only apply religious criteria if given permission to do so. Many voluntary controlled schools pride themselves on their inclusive ethos, as do many religious academy schools, the majority of which also do not have religious admission requirements.

8. The victims of religious discrimination in state schools are the families whose children cannot attend the most appropriate school for their needs because of restrictive admissions criteria. To illustrate the fact that discriminatory admissions policies have real victims, extracts from a small selection of the messages sent to Accord on this issue have been included in Appendix A.

9. It is not simply the opinion of non-religious organisations or individuals that the discrimination of the current system is unjustified. An ICM poll undertaken in 2005[1] found that 64% of people thought that the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind. Supporters of Accord include Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, clergy and laity. Many of the supporters of the campaign actually see religious discrimination as contrary to the doctrine of their faith, a point that should be borne in mind by the committee.

10. In addition to the great stress that is placed on those individuals discriminated against, religious discrimination in admissions has a broader social impact, affecting community cohesion and social segregation.

11. One innovative and welcome element of the Bill is the duty on certain public authorities to have due regard to socio-economic disadvantage when making strategic decisions. Given that numerous studies have shown that religiously selective admissions criteria lead to an increase in social segregation, it is inconsistent that the Bill leaves untouched laws on religious discrimination in admissions.

12. Pupils at faith schools are much less likely to be eligible for free school meals than those in non-denominational schools[2]. A paper published this year by Allen and Vignoles found that while there is little evidence that faith schools drive up standards, there is strong evidence that they cause segregation by class, ability and religion.[3] The exact reasons for the effects of religious admissions arrangement on social selection are still not fully understood, but Professor Anne West of LSE[4] found in a recent study of all secondary school admissions schemes that those of religious schools tend to be more complex, with greater scope for discretion. We believe that the continuation of this social selection runs contrary to the purposes of the Bill.

13. In addition to the impact of social selection, we have very real concerns about the way that religious admissions procedures can impact upon community cohesion. Quantitative analysis of cohesion is more difficult than studies of the interplay between admissions, social class and attainment, but some work has been done. For example, in researching the report Right to Divide: Faith Schools and Community Cohesion the Runnymede Trust engaged with over 1000 teachers, students and parents from different backgrounds, faiths and areas of England. They concluded that "without faith based admissions criteria there might be less resistance to the contribution that faith organisations could make to the English education system"[5] and recommended that all such criteria should be removed.

14. The Cantle Report that followed the 2001 riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford identified religious admissions procedures as one of the factors that can undermine community cohesion and recommended that faith schools open at least 25% of their places to pupils from different backgrounds. After lobbying from religious organisations in 2006 this plan was dropped in favour of a new duty on schools to promote community cohesion. However, this issue has been reopened recently, as the interim findings of a report by Professor Cantle on segregation in Blackburn with Darwen have shown the urgency of tackling the religious admissions[6].

15. The report states that although the cohesion initiatives undertaken in Blackburn's schools in accordance with the duty are "positive" and "imaginative", they are insufficient. The "level of segregation in schools is high, growing and more extensive than the level of residential segregation would suggest", with a number of faith schools "a particular issue". Although the report calls on faith schools to "reconsider their admission policies in light of the impact on cohesion", some schools in the town have already made clear that they do not intend to change their polices[7]. Without legislative change they cannot be compelled to.

16. If, as Prof Cantle claims, faith schools in some of the most segregated communities remain "automatically a source of division which have to be overcome"[8] then the decision to pass a cohesion duty instead of tackling admissions must be re-examined. One of the fundamental principles of work on community cohesion is the importance of "meaningful interactions" between people of different backgrounds. If it was not clear previously that the effects of discriminatory admissions are not sufficiently ameliorated by school linking projects, then perhaps the 2009 Cantle Report provides the requisite evidence.


Employment - See proposed amendments 4 and 5 above

17. The case for removing the specific employment exemptions given to schools with a religious character is simple. Because the Bill (Para 3, Schedule 9) already allows organisations with a religious ethos to apply a requirement to be of a particular religion or belief if it is (1) an occupational requirement and (2) a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, there is no need for specific exemptions for employment in faith schools.

18. In a Bill that seeks to challenge all forms of unfair discrimination there can be no place for sweeping exemptions in an area as important as employment. The current policy of allowing widespread discrimination has many victims, some of whose experiences can be found in Appendix B.

19. It is sad indictment of the current law that what prevents many schools from restricting an even greater number of teaching posts to those of their faith is a shortage of suitably religious candidates, rather than anti-discrimination legislation. If many schools can flourish and uphold their religious ethos with few posts reserved for the religious (whether for principled or pragmatic reasons), then it is hard to justify allowing broader discrimination in other schools. The 23rd Annual Report of Senior Staff Appointments by Education Data Surveys[9] shows that faith schools continue to have greater difficulty recruiting heads than community schools.

20. Our proposed amendments would also affect the provision allowing schools to consider, when terminating a contract, whether the private life of a teacher upholds the precepts of the denomination. If a teacher is guilty of misconduct then this should be a matter for the General Teaching Council or, if appropriate, the police. Schools should not have the power to dismiss staff according to their choice of partner or any other ground which is irrelevant to their conduct as a professional.


Collective Worship - See proposed amendments 1 and 3 above

21. Currently all schools must hold a daily act of collective worship of a wholly or mainly broadly Christian character. The only schools that are given a "determination" exempting them from this requirement are faith schools of other religions, which provide worship in accordance with their own denomination.

22. Parents have the legal right to withdraw their children from collective worship but the law requires only that children withdrawn are kept safe, not that they are provided with alternative education. This means parents are often left with the unenviable choice of either sending their children to attend worship which goes against their most valued beliefs, or risking that they feel isolated or punished because of the beliefs of their parents. We have heard of cases where young children withdrawn from collective worship have been made to do lines or sit in silence and cases where children from non-Christian families have been told they will get into trouble if they do not pray. The experiences of some of the victims of the current requirement for Christian collective worship can be found in Appendix C.

23. There are also examples of good practice, in which schools and teachers are accommodating to the needs of families with different beliefs. However, we do not believe that affording respect to the beliefs of all students and families should depend on the discretion of individual teachers.

24. Although extending the opt-out from collective worship to children of sufficient maturity would help to address some of the infringements of children's rights created by collective worship, it would undermine the inclusiveness of whole school assemblies. Many schools already ignore the law and choose to hold inclusive assemblies in place of worship. We believe it is time for legislation to embrace this reality and bring collective worship under the anti-discrimination provisions of the Bill. Making such an amendment would do nothing to undermine voluntary, opt-in worship for those students who want it.



Appendix A: Testimony from discriminated against in admissions


Message 1:

"Having read the admission criteria in faith schools, I'm amazed that our elected representatives cannot, or choose not to, see how prejudicial these are. In the 21st century UK!

They do not benefit the community and only divide. My own son, who has language problems, would have benefitted from a smaller local school but stood no chance of attending as we refuse to play the middle class game of 'bums on seats' at the local church to gain admission."

Message 2:

"[Had we moved to the area of London we originally intended] our children would have had to travel several miles to primary school - just due to our lack of religion (and the very tight catchment areas of the nearest non-religious schools). In the end, though, we bought a different house, and are very happy with the non-religious very mixed-up primary school we ended up with. Phew. Still hate the system though."

Message 3:

"I feel I have a very limited choice for my daughter's primary school, yet even though I am not a church goer I do belong to the Christian Faith ( Liberal Catholic) but now I must prove that I am a believer using very traditional evidence through religious institutions. Faith is much more than just going to church, but the way you conduct your life, values and spiritual needs , which is greater than just a particular religious institution of which the great majority are lead by unelected men."


Appendix B: Testimony from those discriminated against in employment

Message 1

"I have taught in faith schools and LA schools and experienced professional discrimination in a Cof E school over promotion because I was not and am not a practising Christian."

Message 2

"I am a retired primary school teacher and felt it unfair that a school could advertise a post with the words "Communicant member of the Church of England preferred".

Message 3

"I worked briefly at one Church of England school in London where I was appointed Head of Department but then told that I would not be eligible for further promotion because of my lamentable failure to belong to a C of E congregation. Of the schools I have taught in, it worst represented the many laudable ideals shared by the major world religions which, as an ethical humanist, I support as strongly as I reject the element of superstitious belief in the supernatural that negates their credibility."


Appendix C: Testimony from those discriminated against in collective worship

Message 1

"I have provided [my son, who has been withdrawn from collective worship] with some workbooks to use during these sessions, but the school will not allow me to set him work to do. My son feels that he is being singled out and that he is being 'punished' by the school for not being a Christian... They give him 'lines' to do"

Message 2

"I am a primary school teacher with many years' experience . I would only ever choose to work in a secular comprehensive school and fully support your aims. I am horrified by the attempts of our local church to use a regular assembly slot to promote their evangelical ideas and have used my statutory right to withdraw from these sessions."

Message 3

"Within a week of our child attending the school we noticed that the Head Master's personal religious views dominated the school, with prayers being said upwards of 3 times a day (this is a non denominational school) and Christian holidays given an uncomfortable bias in comparison to other faiths, where barely a token mention had been given.  We have raised it with our son's teacher and were told we had the right to remove our child from prayers or visits to the church. However we've not been comfortable with doing this.  We were naive in thinking that by not picking a religious school our son(s) would receive a well rounded religious education?"

June 2009



[2] Faith Primary Schools: Better Schools or Better Pupils?, 2009, Dr Stephen Gibbons and Dr Olmo Silva

[3] Can Competition Improve School Standards? The Case of Faith Schools in England, 2009, Dr Rebecca Allen and Dr Anna Vignoles,

[4] Secondary school admissions in England: Policy and Practice, 2009, Prof Anne West, Eleanor Barham and Audrey Hind,

[5] Right to Divide: Faith Schools and Community Cohesion, 2008, A Runnymede Report by Dr Rob Berkeley and Dr Savita Vij,