Are you facing the prospect of your child being unable to gain admittance to your local school, because of religious selection? Or have you had to game the system in order to get them in? Are you happy to live in a society in which children are discriminated against on these grounds, while parents feel compelled to behave in this manner?

This situation is clearly unfair, and that’s what we’re here to challenge. We are a new campaign that is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations, aiming to tackle the single issue of religious selection in school admissions.

You can find advice for parents and ways you can get involved in the Campaign as well as more about us and why this is an issue that urgently needs addressing.

Catholic schools are socially selective whatever measure you use

Last month St Mary’s University Twickenham’s Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society published a report entitled The take-up of free school meals in Catholic schools in England and Wales. The report is designed to undermine the credibility of free school meal (FSM) eligibility as an indicator of pupils’ socio-economic status and suggest that other indicators, such as the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI), have greater and more accurate explanatory power. We’ve been through and analysed the evidence presented in the report, and unfortunately it doesn’t really stack up.

Free school meal eligibility/take-up

The central point of the report is that FSM eligibility and FSM take-up are two very different things, but despite this ‘there is a widespread tendency to conflate actual receipt of FSM with “eligibility”’. This is somewhat true. In fact, the Department for Education (DfE) itself has clarified that:

‘pupils who are in theory eligible for free school meals but whose parents do not submit a claim are not recorded as being eligible for free school meals. The department does not hold information about individual pupils who are eligible but do not make a claim for free school meals.

This is problematic, the report claims, because there may be something unique to the intake of Catholic schools which means that FSM take-up is lower, when compared to eligibility, than in average schools. If this is the case, Catholic schools may well have relatively more FSM eligible pupils than they are currently being given credit for.

What, then, might this unique characteristic of Catholic school intakes be? The report identifies this characteristic as the fact that Catholic schools ‘take a markedly high proportion of pupils from ethnic minorities’ when compared to non-Catholic schools. (As a point of fact, Catholic schools take a higher proportion of children classified as ‘black ethnic origin’ specifically, while performing significantly worse than average on inclusion of ‘Asian ethnic origin pupils’. But we’ll forget about that for now.) The reason this high proportion of ethnic minority pupils matters is that, according to the report, take-up of FSM is lower in certain groups, particularly among ethnic minorities or those for whom English is not a first language.

You’d have thought that this claim would be accompanied by some supporting evidence, but unfortunately there’s almost none in the way of that. Indeed, the only prior supporting evidence comes in the form of an ‘unpublished’ Catholic Education Service (CES) report from 2015 which detailed the results of a survey of the headteachers of just 20 schools in just one London borough (Southwark). The survey asked headteachers what factors they thought impacted upon FSM take-up and revealed that ‘many’ of the respondents reported that ‘cultural perception of welfare combined with language barriers’ led to low FSM take-up. No figures are given for how many of the 20 respondents said this and no explanation is given for how the respondents reached this conclusion.

What’s more, a new (very similar) survey conducted for this new report does nothing to bolster the 2015 survey’s findings, and even the researchers themselves state that ‘the findings…need to be treated with caution due to the brevity of the study and the difficulty in gaining access to the schools and the parents.’ And of course, there is an extent to which all of this is moot anyway. Catholic schools may well take more pupils from ethnic minorities than other schools, but not sufficiently more to account for the socio-economic selectivity of Catholic schools. Indeed, the rate of FSM take-up among ethnic minorities would have to be more or less zero for it to explain the poor record of Catholic schools on FSM eligibility/take-up. Given that this clearly isn’t the case, the authors of this report are, at best, trying to argue that Catholic schools are not as socio-economically selective as is claimed, but that they’re still socio-economically selective nonetheless.

So, there’s little to no evidence (or at least none presented here) that the intakes of Catholic schools are more prone to low FSM take-up than any other kind of school. And even if they are, this still doesn’t get Catholic schools out of gaol. Until such a time as the claims in this report can be substantiated and properly evidenced – and it seems very likely that this time will never come – Catholic schools should be treated by government for what they are: socio-economically selective in the extreme and a significant barrier to social mobility and integration.  

Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI)

The other chief problem with the report is its insistence that ‘evidence from other governmental measures overwhelmingly suggests that Catholic schools recruit disproportionate numbers of pupils from families in the lower socio-economic brackets.’ Again, this is not accurate.

The basis of this claim, which is by no means a new one, lies with the IDACI. IDACI measures the proportion of children in a local area that live in low income households. Anyone can enter their postcode into the IDACI online tool and see how deprived the area surrounding that postcode is, as a rank against all other areas nationally. Using this tool, the Catholic Education Service (CES) has compared the proportion of children in Catholic schools that live in the most income-deprived areas, to the national average of all state schools. From this, as is set out in the report, it calculates that ‘children from each of the four lowest (i.e. most income-deprived) deciles are overrepresented in both Catholic primary and secondary schools in England.’

But what does this really prove? Not much. That’s because the CES analysis omits any consideration of the location of Catholic schools, which is surely important if one is to claim that Catholic schools take a disproportionate number of pupils from deprived areas.  

Unfortunately for the CES, the FAC did consider this back in 2014 and found that Catholic schools are much more likely to be in deprived areas that other schools, and much less likely to be in richer areas. No surprise, then, that Catholic schools take more pupils from the most deprived areas than the average school. The real question that must be answered is whether or not Catholic schools are disproportionately more likely to take deprived pupils, given the areas in which they are located. You can see the FAC’s 2014 research for full details on this, but unsurprisingly we found that Catholic schools are even more likely to be situated in more deprived areas than their pupils are. In other words, even when using IDACI Catholic schools take a disproportionately low number of pupils from deprived areas. This conclusion is valid even in spite of the above concerns about FSM eligibility versus take-up.

Last word

So, whether it’s presenting insufficient evidence to support its claims or drawing conclusions well beyond what its (limited) analysis can legitimately be said to demonstrate, the St Mary’s report falls some way short of being robust. If we were feeling charitable, we might simply conclude that the sum of all this is that different ways of measuring things produce different results. Unfortunately, though, Catholic schools are socially selective whatever measure you use.

Notes

For further comment or information please contact the Fair ADmissions Campaign on info@fairadmissions.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read the full report The take-up of free school meals in Catholic schools in England and Wales: https://www.stmarys.ac.uk/research/centres/benedict-xvi/docs/free-school-meal-report.pdf.

Read the FAC’s previous news item ‘Catholic schools and the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/catholic-schools-and-the-income-deprivation-affecting-children-index/.

The FAC wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

Liberal Democrats vote to end religious selection amongst state schools

The Liberal Democrats have passed new party policy to support an end to religious selection in state-funded schools in England. The policy also calls for all state schools to teach impartial education about religious and non-religious worldviews that is inspected by Ofsted, for much stricter limits on religious discrimination in ‘faith’ school employment, and for the current legal requirement for schools to hold daily acts of collective worship to be repealed. The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) has welcomed the result.

The party was presented with three different options on the policy on faith-based admissions. One option was phasing out religious discrimination entirely. Another was reducing it to 50% of places across the board. And the third was for unlimited religious selection. The party opted for both the first of these three options, and the policy motion as a whole.

The Conservatives previously supported existing rules to limit religious selection to 50% of places amongst new state-funded religious schools, but since Theresa May became Prime Minister, has been consulting on scrapping those rules and introducing 100% selection. The Green Party also has policy opposing all religious selection amongst state-funded schools, whereas Labour has been campaigning for keeping the 50% cap.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Asssociation – a founding member of the FAC – commented, ‘We are delighted to see the Liberal Democrats adopt such a fair and comprehensive policy on religious schools, especially on school admissions, given current Government policy proposing to expand such selection.

‘In a recent OECD survey, only four countries were identified as allowing their taxpayer-funded schools to religiously discriminate in admissions: Ireland, Israel, Estonia, and the UK. Such an approach is highly unusual internationally and it is hugely unpopular across all religious and non-religious groups in our country. Children as young as four are segregated on the basis of their parents’ ability to attend a place of worship on a weekly basis and this is no basis for a healthy and integrated future society.

‘We urge the Government to take notice and think again about its plans to expand religious selection.’

New Lib Dem policy

Precisely, Lib Dem policy now calls for:

[A] new approach to state-funded faith schools which:

  1. Ensures that religious education in all state-funded schools:
  2. Is kept separate from any religious instruction.
  3. Covers all the major religious and non-religious viewpoints.
  4. Is part of the party’s proposed slimmed-down national curriculum, appropriate to local circumstances.
  5. Is included in inspections by Ofsted.
  6. Ensures that staff in faith schools are employed only on the basis of merit, with exemptions to allow candidates’ beliefs to be a factor in recruitment only for those staff who are mainly or exclusively responsible for providing religious instruction.
    c. Allows state-funded schools to hold acts of worship and provide religious instruction, but repeals the existing legal requirement for all state-funded schools to hold acts of collective worship, and for non-religious schools to hold acts of worship of a broadly Christian character.
    d. Requires schools to ensure that any act of worship and any religious instruction is optional for members of staff directly employed by the school, and for pupils who are mature enough to decide for themselves and otherwise for parents, and that suitable alternative activities are provided for these pupils.
    e. Ensures that selection in admissions on the basis of religion or belief to state-funded schools is phased out over up to six years.

Notes

For further comment or information please contact the FAC on info@fairadmissions.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read the new Liberal Democrats policy on ‘the role of faith in state-funded schools’: http://www.libdems.org.uk/conference-spring-17-f16-faith-schools

The FAC wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

‘Faith’ schools three times more socially selective than others, new research finds (again)

‘Faith’ schools are the most socially selective category of comprehensive school, and more than three times more socially selective than schools with no religious character, a new report from the Sutton Trust has found. The Sutton Trust has also come out against the Government’s proposals to expand religious selection in new state-run religious schools.

Despite the fact that ‘faith’ schools have been traditionally associated with stronger academic performance and are ‘substantially overrepresented’ in the list of top 500 schools, the report notes that they are ‘among the most socially selective category of top school’. ‘Faith’ schools are more than three times as socially selective compared to their catchment area than a non-faith school’, the research reveals.

The findings call into question once again the Government’s proposals to drastically increase the amount of religious selection in the education system by allowing new and existing religious free schools to select 100% of their places on the basis of faith. Currently, and since 2007, all new ‘faith’ schools have been subject to a 50% cap on religious selection, which requires that they keep at least half of their places open to local children irrespective of religion or belief. The Government now plans to drop the cap, ostensibly in part to boost social mobility.

However, the Sutton Trust recommends that ‘faith schools need to look at their recruitment of disadvantaged pupils’, stating that:

‘The Government has mooted lifting the restrictions on the proportion of pupils new faith schools can select on the basis of religious faith (currently 50%). As our report demonstrates, faith schools are already among the most socially selective of schools, and lifting the restriction is likely to make them even more unrepresentative of their local areas, reducing the number of good school places available to pupils across the socio-economic spectrum. The admissions process for faith schools should instead be opened up so that their admissions are fairer and begin to reflect their local population…’

The report is the latest in a long line of similar research pointing to the negative impact of faith-based admissions on children from poorer backgrounds. In November the Education Policy Institute published a report finding that there is no academic difference between state religious schools in England and others once pupils’ backgrounds are taken into account, noting that ‘faith’ schools take significantly fewer pupils eligible for FSM than live in their local areas.

And a similar piece of research conducted by the Fair Admissions Campaign in 2014 found that while 47 of the top 100 comprehensive schools in England were religious schools, compared to only a fifth of the total number of secondary schools, those 47 schools took an average of 44% fewer children from poorer backgrounds than would have been representative of their local areas. Indeed, the 10 top performing ‘faith’ schools took an average of 56% fewer FSM eligible children, and the top 5 an average of 68% fewer. The findings supported previous research suggesting that the relatively high performance of some ‘faith’ schools was attributable almost entirely to social selection.

An FAC spokesperson commented, ‘Yet again, the evidence has made clear that “faith” schools are not better than other schools, as is so often claimed. Rather, where these schools religiously select their pupils, they are simply less charitable and less willing to risk their undeservedly glowing reputations by serving the children in their communities from poorer backgrounds. Religious selection stunts social mobility, discriminates against children on the basis of their assumed religion, and segregates them along religious and ethnic lines too. It is a stain on our education system and the sooner both the Government and the schools themselves realise this, the better.’

Notes

 

For further comment or information please contact the Fair Admissions Campaign on info@fairadmissions.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read the Sutton Trust’s story: http://www.suttontrust.com/newsarchive/85-of-top-comprehensives-with-best-gcses-are-socially-selective-but-schools-where-pupils-make-most-progress-are-much-less-so/

The FAC wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

Pupils’ access to local schools blighted by religious selection, Mayor of London’s annual education report reveals

The proportion of London pupils who do not get a place at any school of their preference is significantly higher in areas containing a large number of religiously selective schools, analysis of the Mayor of London’s Annual London Education Report 2017 has found.

Launched today at a special education conference in City Hall, the report assesses how well London’s education system is meeting the Mayor’s aim of ensuring that ‘every young Londoner, regardless of background, [has] the chance to fulfil their potential’. It finds that the two worst performing boroughs in terms of pupils’ access to their preferred schools are Kensington and Chelsea (K&C) and Hammersmith and Fulham (H&F), both of which are also home to the highest proportion of school places that are subject to religious selection criteria of all London boroughs.

The report states that ‘The areas in which the lowest proportion of pupils secured their first choice primary schools were Kensington and Chelsea (68.3 per cent) and Hammersmith and Fulham (71.9 per cent)’. However, it notes that ‘a more pressing issue than securing a top preference is when pupils do not get a place at any school of their preference’, again revealing that K&C and H&F are the worst performing boroughs in this regard. At secondary level 14.1% and 16.2% of pupils in K&C and H&F respectively did not get into any of their preferred schools, which is compared to the inner London average of just 4.5%.

Research previously conducted by the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) found that K&C is the most religiously selective local authority at secondary level in the country, with nearly 60% of places subject to a religious test. H&F has the fifth highest proportion of religiously selected places in the country, with around 40%.

The figures suggest that the access of local parents to their local schools is significantly negatively impacted by the faith-based admissions criteria, with those living in areas where there are lots of religiously selective schools the worst affected. Despite this, the Government recently announced that it plans to remove existing rules which require new state-funded religious schools to keep at least half of their places open to local children irrespective of religion or belief, which has been the case since 2007. The move to drop this so-called 50% cap was proposed, in part, on the basis that it would serve to improve parents’ choice, a justification that is entirely undermined by this latest analysis.

A spokesperson for the FAC commented, ‘It should surprise no one that those areas in which more schools are able to turn away children on the basis of religion and belief are the same areas in which the fair access of families to their local schools is lowest. Every shred of available evidence in recent years has demonstrated that religious selection is detrimental not just to parental choice but to ethnic integration and social mobility too, but the Government continues to ignore this evidence. Even so, we will continue to ensure that the research and data is seen by both the Department for Education and the religious organisations running these schools, who might one day recognise how many social ills this kind of discrimination is causing.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact the Fair Admissions Campaign on info@fairadmissions.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read the FAC’s news item ‘Government published plans to allow full religious discrimination in schools admissions: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/government-publishes-plans-to-allow-full-religious-discrimination-in-schools-admissions/   

The FAC wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

Government publishes plans to allow full religious discrimination in schools admissions

In plans published yesterday, the Government has announced that all new and existing religious free schools will be able to select 100% of their places with reference to religion. Subject to a consultation on the proposal, the current rules that require such schools to leave at least half of their places open to local children, regardless of religion or belief, will be scrapped. The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC), which campaigns for an end to religious discrimination in school admissions, says the move takes the education system in entirely the wrong direction, at a time when we should be encouraging more integration not less.

First introduced under Labour and then extended under the Coalition, the ‘50% cap’ on religious selection in free schools was seen as a significant, though not sufficient, step towards improving integration and inclusion in what has long been a segregated education system. However, despite having been defended by Schools Minister Nick Gibb just a few months ago as being necessary to ‘ensure that pupils receive an inclusive and broad-based education’, the Government has decided to shelve the cap, allow religious schools to become entirely single-faith in their intake, and then introduce new measures to break down the further segregation this will cause.

Polls have consistently revealed that the vast majority of the public – as many as 73% – oppose  religious selection of any kind in state-funded schools, and research has found time and time again that religiously selective schools worsen religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation in their local areas.

This has not stopped religious groups from lobbying the Government extensively in recent months to have the cap removed, however, and it appears that this pressure has now taken its toll, despite the fact that many of the arguments employed by these religious groups are demonstrably false. The Catholic Education Service, for instance, has claimed that opening schools that are not fully religiously selective ‘contravenes canon law’, an assertion which forms a significant part of the rationale for the proposals in the Government’s Green Paper. But research recently conducted by the British Humanist Association (BHA) has revealed that the majority of Catholic private schools in England do not give priority to Catholic children for all places, and Catholic state schools in Scotland and internationally tend not to religiously select either.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘If, as the government claims, the modest 50% religious discrimination cap at faith free schools has not been effective in promoting religious and ethnic mixing in schools, then this should ring alarm bells and prompt stronger action, not less and removing the tools of integration.

‘In a country that is becoming increasingly diverse, this is exactly the wrong time to give faith schools the power to divide and segregate children. There is a strong argument for extending the 50% religious admissions cap to all schools, not abolishing it. The Government proposal will give a green light to yet more ghettoisation in its school system.’

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson added, ‘It is hard to overstate how damaging these proposals are. Our country is more diverse than it has ever been, but in recent months we have seen that it is also more divided. At a time when we should be doing everything we can to ensure that children from different religious backgrounds can learn with and from one another, and celebrate what they share rather than be told where they differ, the Government has moved to do just the opposite. This is nonsensical, it is irresponsible, it champions the will of the religious lobby over the best interests of children, and it is almost certainly going to lead to the greatest growth in religious segregation in the history of English schools. We will do everything we can to oppose this change, and are encouraging everyone who believes in an inclusive, non-discriminatory education system to do the same.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact the Fair Admissions Campaign on info@fairadmissions.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read the Government’s green paper, where it sets out the proposals: https://consult.education.gov.uk/school-frameworks/schools-that-work-for-everyone/supporting_documents/SCHOOLS%20THAT%20WORK%20FOR%20EVERYONE%20%20FINAL.pdf

The FAC wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and LecturersBritish Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education AssociationLiberal Youth, the Local Schools NetworkRichmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.