Memorandum submitted by the Archbishop's
Council Board of Education and the National Society
The JHCR's work programme for 2008-09 includes
consideration of recent school guidance documents issued by the
DCSF as they relate to Articles 8 and 9 of the European Code of
Human Rights. The documents cover aspects such as admissions,
discrimination on grounds of religious belief and school uniform
policies. In the main, two documents underpin the commentary.
The Schools Admissions Code (2009); and
Guidance for SchoolsThe Equality Act
2006, Part 2: Discrimination on Grounds of Religion or Belief.
This paper provides a commentary on these and
related issues as they affect the day to day work of Church of
We (the Board of Education and The National
Society) support the tenets and aspirations of equality legislation
and frameworks that establish fairness. Our general approach is
outlined in the Church of England's response to proposals for
a Single Equality Bill for Great Britain (2007). Our schools seek
to achieve full legal compliance and to recognise that legislation
is only part of what is needed to address all aspects of sensitive
and complex issues. In addition, therefore, we endeavour to establish
working arrangements which achieve both Christian distinctiveness
and clarity of values. The former are regularly assessed through
the SIAS inspection arrangements and the latter are described
clearly via a new website to be launched in May 2009.
We view the various pieces of legislation and
ensuing guidance as supportive of, and complementary to, our rationale
for the Church of England's role as a major provider of schools.
The current practice of describing all schools with a religious
ethos as `faith schools' tends unnecessarily to polarise the distinction
between different kinds of publicly funded schools and to gloss
over the very significant differences which exist even among schools
with a religious ethos. On the first point it obscures the fact
that schools are all subject to the national curriculum, to inspection
by OFSTED and to a wide range of requirements set down by the
Department of for Children Schools and Families. On the second
it does not do justice to the variety of approaches taken by the
various faiths and denominations in relation to the balance between
distinctiveness and inclusiveness.
The Church of England is committed to providing
schools that are distinctive and inclusive. That is why our schools
continue to be for those of no faith, those of other faiths and
those of the Christian faith. We remain determined to operate
fairly, inclusively and with full regard to human rights.
We welcome the opportunity to comment on some
aspects of current operational practice as they affect the 4,800
Church of England schools. These are:
We regard the Code as a significant and valuable
improvement on previous unregulated practice. We fully support
its propositions and procedures. The Schools Adjudicator recently
noted that there was no wilful non compliance with the Code in
our schools. We nevertheless recognise that there are still some
features in a minority of admissions policies that need to be
Practical issues usually revolve around oversubscription
criteria and definitions of faith membership. These matters place
significant responsibility on "religious authorities"
(ie the Dioceses) and, whereas we have no difficulty with the
underpinning concept of fairness, we would welcome greater clarity
and definition. This will help to resolve the unease arising from
the fear of litigation.
2. Education in Accordance with Religious
We strongly support the right of parents to
choose, and for pupils to have access to, schools of a religious
character that matches their beliefs and faith. This assertion
is based on a) our historical/cultural heritage (the Church of
England has been a major provider of schools with a Christian
distinctiveness for centuries) and b) the "right" established
under Article 9 of ECHR.
We recognise that in a multi-cultural and multi
faith society there is a need to accommodate other faiths and
religions and so we are active partners in cross faith ventures
such as `Faith in the System'. We do, however, assert and defend
the nation's Christian background. This leads to the desire to
expand, develop and improve the C of E school sector. The main
thrust of expansion is currently in the secondary sector where
we aspire to create a secondary place for all families who want
one. This is not a stance against equality but a definite move
towards fair access as a right.
3. Popularity of C of E Schools
Our schools are undoubtedly popular and highly
regarded both among Christians and non Christians. This is in
part due to their distinctive ethos and general success in teaching
and learning. It also suggests that there is a thirst for diversity
and genuine choice. We will continue to support this appetite
and view it as a key component of a culturally rich and diverse
We also note that our schools often serve whole
communities (eg inner city wards) and areas where real choice
cannot be exercised (eg rural villages) and so we are constantly
mindful of the challenge to achieve genuine inclusivity and respect
for wide ranging cultural and family norms.
4. Direct and Indirect Discrimination
We are mindful of the fine line that our schools
need to tread in balancing the rights of individuals and families
with the right of organisations to express clear values and principles.
The current guidance and codes provide a good framework and we
endeavour to support our schools in exercising good judgement
on sensitive matters.
5. Faith Schools
As noted above, although this term is now widely
used in codes and guidance documents we do not find it helpful.
It is too wide and vague in meaning and has fuelled an unhelpfully
polemical debate. We continue to refer to our schools as "Church
Schools" or "C of E Schools", terms which, though
traditional are entirely compatible with equality and human rights
6. Exceptions for Schools of a Religious Character
Section 49 of part 2 of The Equality Act 2006
defines exemptions for schools of religious character. The associated
guidance document elaborates on these in practice. We positively
note that the guidance says "it was never the intention of
part 2 of the Equality Bill to undermine [the role played by distinct
religious ethos and character and the part they play in diversity
The provisions made in this section were strongly
and correctly argued for at the time of the legislation and we
see no case for reviewing them, still less changing them after
such a short period of time. We recognise, of course, that exceptions
can, unless handled wisely prompt schools to become inward looking.
Our thrust is to ensure that Church of England schools continue
to be outward looking We support them in achieving this through
practical support guidance and training.
7. Curriculum Issues
Similar comments apply to those made in paragraph
6 above. The guidance provided results from a strongly argued
case at the time of the legislation and meets our requirements.
It enables schools to strike the right balance between their distinctiveness
and the needs of the national curriculum. Schools are becoming
increasingly adept at this and it would be wrong to consider changing
the guidance at this early stage, particularly when such criticism
as there is appears to derive from ideological objections rather
than practical examples of difficulties.
8. Collective Worship
We fully support the provisions which require,
under other legislation, pupils to participate in a daily act
of collective worship which should be broadly Christian in nature.
We accept the right of parents to withdraw their children from
this activity. We recognise the additional features associated
with independent schools and Academies.
Taken as a whole we feel that the current arrangements
remain fit for purpose. We would oppose attempts to change them.
We support the guidance on exclusions which
regards this as a tool of last resort. We endorse entirely the
legislation making it unlawful to exclude on the basis of religious
belief (or lack of it).
Exclusion of one pupil often involves a judgement
about protecting the right of others to learn. Schools exercise
this difficult judgement on a daily basis and we feel strongly
that guidance and legislation must take an all round perspective
on this issue. Both the best interests of the miscreant and the
best interests of the whole school community must be protected,
and this is implicit in the human rights code.
10. School Uniform
The current guidance is sensible and we advocate
strongly to our schools that observance of the mores of various
religious, social or racial groups is essential.
We note, however, the need for pragmatism in
this respect. If a pupils dress puts at risk safety, or the ability
to fully identify a pupil, a judgement must be made on priorities
and we feel more guidance on interpretation would be beneficial.
11. Victimisation, Harassment and Bullying
Our stance on these aspects is unequivocal and
entirely in line with current guidance. These characteristics
are not acceptable in a community based on Christian principles.
We would not wish to see any change here, except
to note that guidance and clarification would be helpful in the
difficult cases where the accuser irrationally embellishes or
uses false or exaggerated claims to achieve their own ends. Anecdotal
feedback from schools suggests this form of reverse accusation
is on the increase.
We fully support and provide guidance for our
schools on current legislation and good employment practice.
We are currently exercised by attempts in the
new draft Code of Conduct for Teachers (GTC 2009) to enable school
managers to discipline staff who may be acting out of conscience.
This is a difficult area where the drive for community cohesion
and equality may clash with issues of conscience. How, for example,
should a teacher who on grounds of religious conviction is opposed
to sexual relationships between people of the same gender be expected
to handle such a subject in the course of teaching? Clearly with
sensitivity and respect for the law. But to place such a person,
of whatever faith or denomination they may be, in a position where
they might be expected to promote a viewpoint that conflicted
with their religious conviction is unnecessary and unwise.
We would be happy to work with others to provide
clear guidance on difficult ethical issues which can affect employment
13. Disability, Race, Gender, Sexual Orientation
We fully endorse current guidance on all these
matters and suggest that they also encompass some of the difficult
ethical balancing acts suggested in the paragraphs above.
Balancing human rights requirements with legislative
perspectives and guidance often leads to complex ethical dilemmas.
We urge that more thought and guidance is required and would be
pleased to contribute to discussions on this.
There is a need for increasing levels of "light
touch" monitoring and evaluation of the issues described
above. The current model of SIAS inspections used in Church of
England Schools could be further developed to provide more information.
Likewise, inspection techniques currently being developed by OFSTED
to gauge the effectiveness of community cohesion policies could
be developed for the purpose.
Our experience and commentary is largely supportive
of the current position and we feel the tension between the Code
of Human Rights (articles 8 and 9) and current guidance is reasonable.
The issue is one of practical management and wise judgement.
We do feel, however, that at central level more
work needs to be done to ensure parity of understanding between
our schools, dioceses and the local authorities in which they
sit. All too often we find on issues related to the special character
of our sector, particularly for the voluntary aided schools, that
local authorities act without due regard for the special provisions.
This can have a significant impact on aspects covered in this
paper which leads to misunderstanding and unnecessary conflict.