Legislative Scrutiny: Equality Bill - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Church of England Archbishops Council

School Admissions

  1.  The religious settlement arrived at in the 1944 Education Act guaranteed to the partners in the Dual System who recommended voluntary aided status for their schools control over their admissions policy. This was in order that the original trust in relation to those schools, which in most cases identified the religious character of the schools and therefore the religious community for whom the provision was intended, might be preserved.

  2.  The Church of England has always recognised the two-fold focus of its schools, intended both for those who profess allegiance to the Church of England and also for the wider community desiring an education founded on and carried out in accordance with Christian values. In both those contexts the power to admit children from families sharing the religious foundation of the school is both logical and necessary.

  3.  The Dearing Report The Way Ahead (2001) addressed this issue on behalf of the Church of England and concluded that a mix of intake was necessary. There should continue to be a core of children from practising Christian families in order that the ethos and worship derived from the Anglican and wider Christian traditions is strengthened through parental support.

  4.  We do not believe there is any justification for treating Church of England schools differently from schools provided by the minority faiths. While the Church of England has a broader conception of the purpose if its schools, consistent with its position as the Established Church, for precisely that reason the exemption must remain. The religious foundation of the school is in greater danger of being weakened where a broader admissions policy is in place. The support of committed Christian parents must be assured through identifying places allocated on the basis of faith.

  5.  It is quite clear in the 2008 School Admissions Code that an individual school cannot define their own religion. The Code refers to the relevant religious authority, which in the case of the Church of England is the relevant Diocesan Board of Education, by virtue of the statutory role outlined in the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991.

Collective Worship

  6.  The provisions regarding collective worship are to be understood in relation to the origins of the statutory education system in this country. The first providers of mass education were the Christian churches at the beginning of the 19th century. The entry of the State into public education in 1870 was, in the first instance, an acknowledgement that voluntary provision could not keep pace with growing need. Schools funded entirely from the public purse were provided to fill the gaps in voluntary provision. As such there was a significant consistency of approach, which included a carry over of basic assumptions about the nature and purposes of the curriculum.

  7.  In particular the contribution to children's spiritual and moral development in the new Board schools was seen in exactly the same terms as in the voluntary schools provided by the churches, expressed in the requirements for compulsory religious education and collective worship. Both these were seen in Christian terms, albeit newly defined in a non-denominational way. The withdrawal clauses allowed those parents who had conscientious objections to either of those activities to remove their children from those classes and from collective worship.

  8.  The withdrawal clauses still adequately provide for those who do not wish their children to be part of the daily act of collective worship. The fact that parents rarely avail themselves of them indicates that the requirements are understood and carried out in a way which is not considered offensive. Many schools moreover testify to the positive impact of worship as they interpret the requirement in providing a spiritual focus for their school community, and as capable, within the definition of "broadly Christian", of acknowledging the beliefs of all members of the school community.

  9.  Permitting pupils who are not in the sixth form but who are of "sufficient age and maturity" to withdraw on their own authority from collective worship would create the need for sophisticated and invidious procedures in order to determine whether they were in fact of "sufficient age and maturity". How a suitable definition of maturity might be reached, and by whom, is not clear. The additional burden on schools to apply the resulting tests would not be welcome.

  10.  Where a school believes that the requirement for "broadly Christian" worship is inappropriate to their community it may apply to the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education for a "determination". This allows for the Christian basis to be replaced by some other religious basis more in keeping with the needs of the community. In practice this is rarely invoked though all Authorities have a process in place to enable this top happen.

  11.  The membership of Standing Advisory Councils of Religious Education is outlined in Circular 1/94, which specifies the representative character of each committee of the Council. Their function is to represent all those groups with a relevant interest in the content of the Religious Education syllabus to be taught in the community and voluntary controlled schools within the Authority.

  12.  The four Committees represent the interests of the faith communities, the Church of England, the teachers' associations and the local authority. As such it is necessary that the members not only are members of the specified groups but also authorised in some way to represent them.

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