One of education's most powerful features is the ability to bring people together and to open opportunities for our children, no matter their background. What sort of message do our schools send to children when they discriminate based on religion? An inclusive education system today is the best chance we have of creating an inclusive society tomorrow.
Since 2010, new faith schools have had a 50% limit on the amount of places they can allocate based on faith i.e. 50% of places must be equally open to all pupils regardless of their religious background. While not perfect, the cap is the only tangible action the Government has taken to tackle to discrimination and segregation wrought by faith schools.
A secular approach to school admissions would create a more inclusive education system that values and caters for all pupils equally.
What's the problem?
In September 2016 the Government announced plans to scrap the 50% cap to encourage a wave of new 100% religiously selective schools.
The Government claimed these proposals are intended to "promote inclusivity", but it should be obvious to everyone that facilitating a new generation of 100% religiously selective schools is, by definition, inimical to this aim.
Thanks to huge public opposition rallied by the NSS and others, it had looked like the proposals had been abandoned. Unfortunately following the January 2018 reshuffle and the promotion of Damian Hinds – who has previously lobbied to increase religious discrimination in admissions – to education secretary, the proposals are back on the agenda.
Polling shows a majority of all religion and belief groups are opposed to religious discrimination in state school admissions. Groups like the London Assembly and The Children's Rights Alliance for England say scrapping the cap will harm children's rights.
Professor Ted Cantle, widely regarded as the UK's leading authority on community cohesion and intercultural relations, has described the proposal to drop the 50% cap as "incredibly worrying", calling it "the only measure of any substance, really in the history of the modern education system, that has directly sought to address the segregation that has been and continues to be caused by religious selection in schools".
Linda Woodhead, Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster, has argued, the changes side with hard-line religion whilst undermining the religious centre ground.
The time has come to end religious discrimination and segregation in our schools – not extend it.
Wider issues of discrimination in admissions
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. In many cases schools will require evidence of baptism or religious practice from a minister of religion.
We advocate for an end to the exemption from equality law that permits state funded 'faith schools' to religiously select children in this way.
Such admissions arrangements disadvantage local children whose parents are non-religious or of a different religion to the school's religious designation. 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.
There is also strong evidence to suggest that the discriminatory admissions arrangements operated by some schools, in addition to being unfair, encourage social segregation and impede community cohesion.
Religious selection in schools is discriminatory, entrenches religious segregation in wider society, and often leads to ethnic and socio-economic segregation too.
In a society as diverse as ours, rather than facilitating segregation along religious lines, the Government should be doing everything it can to ensure that children of all faiths and none are educated together in inclusive schools.
What are we doing?
We're one of the leading organisations challenging the Government's proposals to scrap the 50% cap on faith based admissions to free schools. See our Submission To DFE Schools That Work For Everyone Consultation and related news below.
A major aim of our education campaign is to end, not extend, religious discrimination in school admissions. We publicise the effects that faith-based admissions to state schools has on discrimination, social selection and segregation. We challenge schools when their faith based admissions go beyond the level of discrimination permitted by the law.
What you can do:
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- Changes To Faith Based Admissions And New Faith Based Academies (PDF, 568 Kb)
This briefing addresses the Government’s plan to change the rules surrounding admissions to, and the opening of, new faith-based free schools and academies, including allowing new and existing faith-based free schools to religiously select their entire pupil intake.
- Submission To DFE Schools That Work For Everyone Consultation (PDF, 403 Kb)
NSS response to the Government's 2016 consultation on scrapping the 50% on religious discrimination in Free School admissions.
- Majority Of All Religious And Belief Groups Oppose Religious Selection In School Admissions (PDF, 250 Kb)
In November 2016 a Populus poll commissioned by the Accord Coalition and the British Humanist Association questioned voters and found overwhelming opposition to selection by faith, including among all religion and belief groups.
- Faith School Admissions Campaign Briefing (PDF, 399 Kb)
Many faith schools1 are granted exemptions from equality legislation which stipulates that schools cannot discriminate against pupils because of their religion or belief.
- Admissions Response Form (PDF, 348 Kb)
NSS response to the 2011 Consultation on the Changes to the Admissions Framework