Temporary changes should prompt fairer school admissions, says NSS

Posted: Mon, 23 Nov 2020

Faith schools sign

The National Secular Society has said temporary changes to many faith schools' admissions policies should prompt lasting change to create a fairer admissions system and make schools more inclusive.

Faith schools across much of England are altering admissions provisions which give priority to children who attend places of worship, as a result of closures prompted by the coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier this month the Office for the Schools Adjudicator, which clarifies the legal position on admissions policies, approved a change of policy at a C of E school in Nottinghamshire.

Lowdham Church of England primary will not require pupils to have attended church for the 12 months before their application. Instead arrangements will only apply to "the period when the church or alternative premises have been available for public worship".

According to Schools Week, C of E diocesan bodies in London and Sheffield have confirmed that many of the schools they are responsible for have made similar changes to admissions rules.

In July the government published guidance for faith schools in England, advising them to make changes to their admissions arrangements for the September 2021 intake.

Many faith schools' admissions criteria prioritise children based on their attendance at places of worship when places are oversubscribed.

The NSS has long campaigned against religious discrimination in school admissions.

NSS comment

Alastair Lichten, the NSS's head of education, said: "This year's closures have made it even more complicated and unworkable to base admissions policies on attendance at places of worship. But it's absurd and unfair to use that criterion to assess children's suitability for school admission in the first place.

"Religious discrimination in admissions means families can be turned away from their local schools because they aren't religious, they have the wrong religion, or they haven't played the system well enough.

"State-funded schools shouldn't be treated as religious communities and should have no need to know how often families go to church, mosque or synagogue. Discriminatory faith-based admissions should be scrapped for good."

Notes: religious discrimination in school admissions

  • Exemptions within the Equality Act of 2010 make it lawful for faith schools to discriminate against pupils on the grounds of religion or belief. The NSS has called for these exemptions to be removed.
  • Oversubscribed voluntary aided faith schools and many academies are allowed to prioritise children on a religious basis in up to 100% of their places.
  • In a 2018 poll by Censuswide just 17% of respondents said they agreed with the statement: "Publicly funded schools should be able to select pupils on the grounds of their religious beliefs."
  • In 2016 an analysis for the Sutton Trust found it was "generally true" that non-religious schools were "not particularly socially selective", while "Roman Catholic and other religious primary schools are, regardless of governance status".

Read more: Let's scrap discriminatory faith-based school admissions for good, blog by Megan Manson for the NSS's No More Faith Schools campaign.

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Tags: Admissions, Faith Schools