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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Discrimination in faith schools

Admissions

Many faith schools are granted exemptions from equality laws which are meant to ensure that schools cannot discriminate against pupils because of their religion or belief. When voluntary aided faith schools and religious academies are oversubscribed, they are permitted to use religious criteria to give priority in admissions to children, or children of parents, who practice a particular religion.

Such policies disadvantage local children whose parents are non-religious or of the 'wrong' religion. Many parents find that because of their lack of religious belief, they are unable to send their children to their local state school, which is often the most appropriate school for their needs.

Permitting publicly-funded schools to choose pupils on the basis of the parents' religion is an abuse of Human Rights. Younger children in particular have little or no understanding of what their parents' beliefs involve and are not able to make their own decisions about what they believe, if anything.

We believe the exemptions from equality legislation that permits publicly funded schools to refuse admission to a child on the basis of his or her parent's religion or belief should be abolished.

Find out more

Read our briefing paper on faith school admissions

Read our response to the Government's admissions framework consultation

Employment

Faith schools are also permitted to discriminate in employment on religious grounds. Many teachers can find themselves blocked from certain positions because they are non-believers or of the 'wrong' faith. This means that suitably qualified teachers can be discriminated against in a third of all state schools.

Voluntary controlled religious schools can apply a religious test in appointing, remunerating and promoting one fifth of teaching staff, including the Head Teacher. In voluntary aided religious schools, the governing body employs the staff and can apply a religious test in appointing, remunerating and promoting all teachers. It may also apply a religious test to non-teaching staff if a 'genuine occupational requirement' can be demonstrated. In addition, teachers can be disciplined or dismissed for conduct which is 'incompatible with the precepts of the school's religion.

We believe the degree of discrimination legally permitted on the grounds of religion and belief against teachers and other school staff is unreasonable and unacceptable. In England and Wales the relevant statute is the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 Sections 58 and 60, as amended; in Scotland, the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.

With the long term decline in Christian observance in the UK forecast to continue, the special privileges granted to religious organisations in selecting teachers on religious grounds become more unreasonable and unsustainable.

Find out more

Read our Paper: The impact of religious schools on teachers