Memorandum submitted by Accord
Most schools with a religious character are
currently able to use religious oversubscription criteria in their
admissions arrangements. The government does not collect data
on the use of religious admissions requirements but from independent
research we know that they exist in over 90 per cent of religious
voluntary aided secondary schools. The proportion of schools of
other types with religious admissions criteria is lower, but,
even so, at secondary level three fifths of voluntary controlled
schools have religious admissions, as do 11 per cent of academies/city
technology colleges and one per cent of foundation schools.
The proportions of voluntary controlled schools
at primary level which select according to religion are thought
to be significantly lower, but we are aware of no national statistics
on religious admissions at primary level.
1. Indirect social selection
Research by Professor Anne West
of the LSE and by the Runnymede Trust
has found that the complex selection procedures are used by religious
schools give a significant advantage to wealthier, more educated
and more determined parents. In response to concerns about socially
selective admissions arrangements, the government has made significant
improvements to the School Admissions Code and strengthened the
ability of the Schools Adjudicator to challenge unfair practices.
While we support the changes that have been made to tackle social
selection as far as they go, we believe that any state school
admissions framework based on religious discrimination is unjust
Even if the new code were to be successful in
eradicating practices such as pre-admission interviews and questions
about the marital status of parents, it is highly likely that
religious schools would retain a socially privileged intake. This
is because surveys show that churchgoers are disproportionately
middle class but, despite this, regular church attendance is considered
an acceptable criterion in school admissions.
Additionally, within the various religious populations it is the
most advantaged families who are most likely to apply faith schools,
in particular those faith schools that are considered elite. Because
of the influence of school league tables and school reputation
it is easy for trends set in motion by differences in intake to
2. Indirect ethnic selection
It is true that some religious schools have
many non-white pupils, but the headline statistics on school denomination
and ethnicity do not tell the whole story. Catholic schools, for
example, are disproportionately based in urban areas and accept
many students from African and Caribbean backgrounds. However,
the proportion of Bangladeshi pupils taught in London religious
secondary schools is just one per cent, or a quarter of that in
non-denominational schools. There therefore a risk that in areas
with a strong overlap between religious and ethnic identity, religious
admissions procedures can reinforce ethnic segregation, a problem
highlighted in the Cantle Report. Furthermore, those black ethnicity
pupils who do attend faith schools are less likely to be free
school meal eligible or to have low prior attainment than those
in community schools.
3. Religious selection
The impact of religious admissions criteria
on social and ethnic selection are very important, but they should
not be allowed to obscure the problems directly caused for individuals
and society by religious discrimination.
For parents who are unable to meet the religious
criteria of faith schools discrimination can greatly diminish
school choice. It is the strength of community schools that they
are open to all regardless of beliefs, but the consequence of
the current system is that religious families usually have a greater
choice of schools.
Consider, for example, two familiesone
Catholic, the other not religiouswho wish to send their
daughter to a secondary school in Liverpool. Both families are
happy to send their child to either a religious or a community
school because both prioritise factors such as proximity to home,
results and friendship groups over the denomination of the school.
The prevalence of schools with religiously discriminatory admissions
means that the religious family will have a greater choice of
schools, even though the denomination of the school is of little
consequence to them.
In inner city areas of London and the North
West, as well as in rural areas with a limited choice of schools,
these problems are acute and cause great distress to parents who
see no reason why their children's prospects should depend on
their religious convictions, or lack of them.
We would be interested to know the view of the
JCHR on whether Article 14, Schedule 1 of the HRA read in
conjunction with Article 2 Part 2, may be breached in cases
where educational prospects and school choice are very severely
limited for those of particular religious or non-religious beliefs.
According to a recent poll conducted on behalf
of the EHRC, religion is today thought to be a significantly more
divisive factor in British society than race.
Guidance issued by the government and by non
government bodies on the issue of community cohesion stresses
the importance of overcoming religious, cultural and ethnic divisions
through regular, meaningful contact between different groups.
The passing of a duty on schools to promote community cohesion
was a small step forwards and has led to some worthwhile projects
that seek to break down barriers between communities.
However, religious (as opposed to cultural and
ethnic) divisions between young people are unique because they
are directly promoted through discriminatory school admission
policies. It is notable that the duty to promote community cohesionwhich
itself resulted from the failure to pass a quota system to open
up faith school admissionshas done virtually nothing to
tackle directly discriminatory admissions policies. We question
the wisdom of a set of policies that seek to ameliorate divisions
within and between communities, while at the same time leaving
state-funded schools free to discriminate. Direct discrimination
by public bodies should be the first thing to be tackled, not
We welcome the work that that the JCHR has already
conducted on the human rights implications of collective worship
and Religious Education. While we agree that extending the ability
to withdraw from worship to children of sufficient maturity would
be a significant step forward, we favour the replacement of collective
worship with inclusive assemblies. This is because an opt-out
system provides no entitlement to alternative educational provision
for those who opt out, whether this is an inclusive assembly or
something else. More broadly, an opt out system is inherently
divisive and negates the idea of assembly as a shared activity
for the whole school.
Article 24 of the UNCRC recognises children's
right to information to help them stay healthy but we believe
that this is undermined by the current right of parents to withdraw
their children from Sex and Relationships Education. Although
relatively few children are withdrawn from SRE lessons, it is
likely that many of those who are withdrawn do not receive adequate
sex education at home either. We are also concerned about the
right of religious schools to teach SRE in accordance with their
religious ethos as this may affect the scope and objectivity of
information given to students.
In a document intended for schools in his diocese
and beyond, the Catholic Bishop of Lancaster wrote that "the
secular view on sex outside of marriage, artificial contraception,
sexually transmitted disease, including HIV and AIDs, and abortion
may not be presented as neutral information" [emphasis in
original]. While the bishop is not entirely clear about what he
considers the "secular" view on these issues to be,
we believe that attitudes such as this can seriously weaken schools'
attempts to provide comprehensive SRE.
We remain concerned about homophobic bullying
in faith schools. Research by Stonewall has shown that while homophobic
bullying is a problem in many schools, it is a particular issue
in schools with a religious character. Stonewall also found that
victims of homophobic bullying are less likely to report incidents
to teachers in faith schools and discovered incidences where schools
and teachers used religious beliefs to justify inadequate responses
to homophobic incidents.
45 Secondary school admissions in England: Policy
and Practice, Prof Anne West, Eleanor Barham and Audrey Hind,
March 2009 http://www.risetrust.org.uk/Secondary.pdf Back
Faith Schools: Right to Divide?, Dr Rob Berkeley, December
2008, http://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/publications/pdfs/RightToDivide-2008.pdf Back
A 2009 Tearfund survey found that 26 per cent of British
people attend church at least once a year, with "AB social
class (34 per cent) and owner occupiers without a mortgage
(32 per cent) among the groups overrepresented and "C2 social
class (21 per cent); DE social class (22 per cent);
single people (19 per cent) and council tenants (19 per
cent)" among those underrepresented. It should also be noted
that only 15 per cent of adults attend church at least every
month, but many school admissions policies require regular church
attendance at a particular church over the course of several years.
In an oversubscribed school, such policies will inevitably select
out all but the most religious and/or most organised and determined
parents http://www.tearfund.org/News/Press+releases/Church+is+where+the+heart+is.htm Back
"Religious Schools in London: School Admissions, Religious
Composition and Selectivity " Allen, R. and West, A.
(2009) Oxford Review of Education, forthcoming (p12). Back
"Three in five (60 per cent) of the general population
and two in three (66 per cent) of those in ethnic minority
groups think religion is more divisive than race today."
Page 10, Guidance on the Duty to Promote Community Cohesion,
quoting the Commission on Integration and Cohesion http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/_doc/11635/Guidance
per cent20on per cent20the per cent20duty per cent20to per cent20promote
per cent20community per cent20cohesion per cent20pdf.pdf Back
The School Report Stonewall, 2007, http://www.stonewall.org.uk/other/startdownload.asp?openType=forced&documentID=1704 and
The Teachers' Report, Stonewall, 2009 http://www.stonewall.org.uk/other/startdownload.asp?openType=forced&documentID=1659