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.

New research survey condemns Government proposals for an end to limits on faith school selection

A major new survey of recent research relating to the use of religious selection in faith school admissions has failed to identify any evidence supporting the Government’s proposed move to end limits on religious selection by free schools.

The report, published by the Fair Admissions Campaign, sets out the full range of evidence, information, and research on religious selection in schools admissions. Drawing on data and analysis from the last 15 years, the study explores the impact that religious discrimination in school admissions has had and continues to have on key issues such as social integration, community cohesion, pupil attainment, parental choice, and equality.

It comes in the midst of proposals announced by the Government last autumn which would see an end to the 50% cap on religious selection, which currently requires all new and existing religious free schools to leave at least half of their places equally open to local children, irrespective of religion or belief. Research published since the announcement has been overwhelming in its condemnation:

  • An August 2017 study commissioned by the Department for Education revealing that ‘attitudes were more positive and, as would be expected, mixing was more frequent in mixed than segregated schools…mixed schools do result in more social mixing between ethnic groups over time, and mixing is reliably associated with more positive views of the outgroup’
  • A March 2017 report by the Sutton Trust concluding that lifting the 50% cap is ‘likely to make [faith schools] even more unrepresentative of their local areas, reducing the number of good 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.
  • A November 2016 report from the Education Policy Institute which finds that the proposal is ‘unlikely to yield school places that are of a significantly higher quality than that offered by non-faith schools…[and] there is a risk that these small gains would come at the price of increased social segregation.’
  • A September 2016 analysis of official School Census data revealed that Christian schools that select 100% of their places on the basis of religion are far less diverse than those which select either none or only half of their pupils on the basis of religion. The analysis concludes that if the 50% cap was rolled out to all state schools rather than repealed, ‘tens or even hundreds of thousands of non-white pupils would gain access to their local schools where they haven’t had access before’.

Particularly interesting is the attention drawn to the various polls that have been conducted over the last few years, demonstrating that religious selection is hugely unpopular among the population as a whole. Indeed, a poll published by the Accord Coalition in July 2017 found that four out of five people want to keep the 50% cap, including a sizeable majority of every religious group, and other polling suggests around three-quarters want to scrap faith-based admissions entirely. A number of high-profile figures have also condemned the Government’s proposals, including Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman, and Conservative ‘Father of the House’ Ken Clarke MP.

Commenting on the report’s release, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain commented, ‘This is an incredibly important and timely survey, and one that highlights the unacceptable face of schools admissions, with a number of faith schools using discriminatory criteria that are religiously questionable and socially divisive. The Government should urgently reconsider its proposals to increase such division in the education system in light of these findings.’  

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson added, ‘Discussions about faith schools and religious selection are often unhelpfully coloured by personal anecdote and fixed allegiance, so what this report aims to do is provide a “one-stop-shop” of reliable information in this area. We hope this will encourage a more informed debate, and more informed policy-making too.’

Notes

For further information, please contact the Fair Admissions Campaign on 020 7324 3078 or email info@fairadmissions.org.uk.

The report is available at: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/2017-08-29-FINAL-Religious-Selection-Research-Survey.pdf

The Fair Admissions Campaign 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 Humanists UK, 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.

New research: religious selection ‘significantly reduces’ proportion of parents offered first choice school

The use of religious selection in state school admissions significantly reduces the chance of parents being offered their first choice school, new research by the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) has revealed.

Following the publication of the Government’s official school preference data last week, the FAC compared the proportion of parents in each local authority who were offered their first choice secondary school to the proportion of secondary places in each local authority that are subject to religious selection. The analysis found that, on average, parents living in local authorities with a high proportion of religiously selective schools were far less likely to be offered their first choice than parents in areas with relatively fewer religiously selective schools.

In fact, for every 1% increase in the proportion of secondary school places subject to religious selection, there is a 4.2% increase in parents missing out on their first choice secondary school.

The findings reinforce concerns that the Government’s proposal to drop the so-called 50% cap on religious selection and allow new and existing religious free schools to select all of their places on the basis of religion will have a hugely detrimental impact on the education system. Since the proposals were announced by the Prime Minister in September last year, a spate of research has been produced demonstrating that the 50% cap has significantly boosted both integration and social mobility in schools, and that removing it is likely to lead to more ethnically and socially segregated schools.

Now that the FAC’s analysis has also revealed that the proposal would reduce the access of local parents to their preferred schools, the Government is likely to face fresh questions as to why it is pursuing a policy so obviously detrimental to parents and children.

Fair Admissions Campaign spokesperson Richy Thompson commented, ‘The Government is proposing to lift the cap on religious selection in school admissions in the name of meeting parental demand, but today’s findings demonstrate that precisely the opposite will occur. This research has nothing to say about the pros and cons of faith schools in general, only about whether or not our education system is set up so as to allow for the fair access of local parents to their preferred schools. This is the principle on which our entire school admissions system should be based, but unfortunately the evidence is very clear that religious discrimination detracts significantly both from fair and equal access and from parental choice.

‘Faith schools, like all other state-funded schools, are paid for by everyone and should be open to everyone. The fact that the Government is proposing to spend more public money on schools that are not open to all and which reduce local access is unconscionable, and makes a mockery of the “Schools that work for everyone” slogan with which the policy was launched. Religiously selective schools are not schools that work for everyone, they are schools that discriminate, divide, and turn away local children at the gate.’

Notes

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

See full details of the FAC’s research: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017-06-20-Impact-of-religious-selection-on-parental-choice.pdf

Graph showing impact of religious selection on chance of parents securing their first choice secondary school (by local authority):

See the FAC’s previous news item ‘Pupils access to local schools blighted by religious selection, Mayor of London’s annual education report reveals’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/pupils-access-to-local-schools-blighted-by-religious-selection-mayor-of-londons-annual-education-report-reveals/

See the FAC’s briefing on recent research on faith schools and religious selection: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/2017-06-16-Briefing-recent-research-on-‘faith’-schools-and-religious-selection.pdf

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 Fair Admissions Campaign 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 Humanists UK, 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.

Catholic Education Service climbs down in bid to reinstate its ‘unfair and arbitrary’ school admissions rules

The Catholic Education Service (CES) has climbed down on its bid to overturn a decision by the school admissions tribunal, which found that the religious selection test used by Catholic schools is ‘unfair and arbitrary’. The Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC), which along with Humanists UK was responsible in 2015 for revealing that virtually every religiously selective school in England has been breaking the law, welcomed the news.

In November last year the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) ruled that the admission arrangements of a number of Catholic schools in England are unlawful due to their use of the Certificate of Catholic Practice. The Certificate, which was introduced by the CES in 2016, is used to verify whether or not a pupil is from a practising Catholic family, and to subsequently give such pupils priority in admissions.

However, the certificate is not subject to any objective test, and simply requires the signature of a priest. The OSA judged this to be too arbitrary a test to comply with the School Admissions Code, which demands that all school admission arrangements be ‘reasonable, clear, objective, and procedurally fair’.

Following the OSA’s ruling, the CES together with the Diocese of Westminster were given permission to legally challenge the decision in the High Court. But after discussions with the OSA and the Department for Education, that challenge has now been dropped. This is as the CES has now clarified that, but for ‘exceptional circumstances’, a parent must have attended Mass on Sundays and holydays of obligations for at least five years in order to have their certificate approved by a priest. Despite five years being an extremely long time to have to be religiously practising to gain entry to a school, the OSA has indicated that use of the certificate is now likely to be considered ‘acceptable’ under the School Admissions Code, as this clarification has introduced objectivity into the Certificate’s assessment process.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, a founding member of the Fair Admissions Campaign, commented, ‘The Adjudicator’s insistence on objectivity and fairness in the admissions system is admirable, and we’re glad that their ruling against the Catholic Education Service will be upheld.’

‘It remains the case, however, that religiously selective admission arrangements are unfair by their very nature, and cause a great deal of harm regardless of how objective they are. Schools that are paid for by everybody should be open to everybody, and any system in which children are discriminated against on the basis of their assumed religion is not fit for purpose. We will go on encouraging both the Government and individual schools to do away with religious selection altogether and opt for a fully inclusive approach instead.’  

Notes

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

Read the Catholic Education Service’s clarification on the Certificate of Catholic Practice: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Certificate-March-2017-FINAL-002.docx

Read the OSA’s decisions on the admission arrangements of:

St Paul’s Catholic College, Surrey: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/st-pauls-catholic-college

St Michael’s Catholic Primary Schools, Surrey: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/st-michaels-catholic-primary-school-surrey

Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Primary School, Surrey: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/our-lady-of-the-rosary-catholic-primary-school

St Ignatius Catholic Primary School, Surrey: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/st-ignatius-catholic-primary-school

St Richard Reynolds Catholic College, Richmond: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/st-richard-reynolds-catholic-college

Read the FAC news item ‘An Unholy Mess: new report reveals “near-universal noncompliance” with School Admissions Code among religiously selective state schools in England: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/an-unholy-mess-new-report-reveals-near-universal-noncompliance-with-school-admissions-code-among-state-faith-schools-in-england/

Read the full report: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/anunholymess/    

The Fair Admissions Campaign 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 Humanists UK, 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.

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.