Church school 25% concession is a cynical diversionary tactic that means nothing, say secularists

The Church of England’s announcement that it intends to open up 25% of new schools admissions to non-church families was condemned today as a cynical ploy aimed at misleading public opinion. The National Secular Society (NSS) said that the move would have minimal effect on community cohesion but was an attempt to deflect criticism ahead of plans to open more state-funded Church schools.

NSS Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood said “Education Minister Alan Johnson hailed the Anglican and Catholic churches’ announcement as ‘demonstrat[ing] an important commitment to community cohesion’. If both Anglican and Catholic churches were really committed to community cohesion, they would not restrict this new policy only to new schools but would open up at least 25% of places in all their existing schools, too.

“There are around 5,000 Anglican and 2,000 Catholic schools, but the ‘25%’ proposal being hyped up only relates to new Anglican schools, which will only form an infinitesimal proportion of the total. And even for them, the 25% proportion would only make any difference were any of these new schools to become over-subscribed. Even in these, the 25% proportion would be crowded out by the many Christians who would not commit to the twice monthly church attendance proposed as a religious entry criterion by the Church this month. The Catholics cannot bring themselves to make even this token gesture, and other faiths are specifically distanced from this announcement.

“The public has woken up to the dangers that religious schools pose to racial and religious cohesion and the creation of middle class ghettoes. They cannot understand how separating children by religion (and often therefore race) promotes cohesion, and nor can academics who have studied it. Joint sports or token visits simply do not work. Nor does the public like parents being forced to attend church simply to secure attendance at their nearest publicly-funded school. This cynical joint PR announcement by the churches and the Minister is an acknowledgment of the dangers and unpopularity of religious schools, but the remedy it cynically offers is a complete illusion.

“We predict that this announcement is in reality an attempt to clear the way for a new wave of religious schools. And the CofE are getting their bid in now. As part of their letter offering the 25% they say ‘there has already been significant growth in the provision of Church of England secondary schools. We look to go further.’

“The Bishop of Portsmouth, the CofE chief spin doctor on education, is proud to say that ‘most’ CofE schools are ‘inclusive’, which could mean ‘non-discriminatory’, but this is not the case. There is no question of giving a commitment that pupils will be admitted into publicly-funded CofE schools on an equal basis regardless of parents’ beliefs or church attendance. So the child living next door to a church school may well have to travel many miles to an alternative school. At the same time those living much further away but committing themselves to church going – willingly or not – will often have preference. Community cohesion? Inclusive? We don’t think so.