Government agrees to include NSS findings in school admissions review

Posted: Thu, 23rd Mar 2023

Government agrees to include NSS findings in school admissions review

The government has said it will consider National Secular Society research on faith schools as part of its next review of school admissions.

An NSS report published last month revealed how religious requirements in the oversubscription criteria of 14 state-funded faith schools' admissions policies are being used to impose extreme religious ideology on families.

This includes attempts to control aspects of families' private lives, including parents' sex lives, which the NSS argued may breach human rights.

Many of the requirements also resemble rules imposed by high-control religious groups on their members, as identified by 'cult' watchdog The Family Survival Trust.

In its report, the NSS argued that the schools are exhibiting coercive and controlling behaviour, which can be a criminal offence within the context of an interpersonal relationship.

Several schools required applicants to follow Jewish 'purity laws' regarding sex. These rules concern when a married couple may have sexual intercourse or come into physical contact with one another, according to the timings of the woman's menstrual cycle.

Other practices required by schools included:

  • Children having no access to the internet or television, and for children to be forbidden from visiting the cinema or theatre.
  • Parents and children following strict dress codes at all times, including outside of school, such as 'modest' dress for women and girls.
  • Following a halal diet and fasting during Ramadan.

In response to the report, Minister for Schools Nick Gibb said he would consider the report's findings and recommendations as part of the next review of the School Admissions Code.

School admissions policies must comply with the admissions code. A policy's compliance with the code is determined by the Office of the School's Adjudicator (OSA).

Despite the existing code requiring that admissions policies are "reasonable, clear, objective, [and] procedurally fair" and compliant with "all relevant legislation, including equalities legislation", several complaints to the OSA regarding the kind of extreme religious requirements set out in the report have been unsuccessful.

The NSS recommended that the Schools Admissions Code be updated to specifically prohibit oversubscription criteria which breach human rights, and that further guidance is provided to the OSA regarding the code's enforcement and application.

NSS: Government commitment is "welcome"

NSS campaigns officer Jack Rivington said: "The government's commitment to consider the report's findings and recommendations in its next review of the School Admissions Code is welcome, as is the recognition of concerns regarding human rights breaches.

"Fundamentalist religious organisations must not be able to use schools as a means to exert control over members of particular religious communities. The practices identified in the report are intrusive and harmful. Their presence in our education system is deeply alarming.

"A wider assessment of the role of discriminatory faith-based admissions in facilitating these kind of practices should now follow."

What the NSS stands for

The Secular Charter outlines 10 principles that guide us as we campaign for a secular democracy which safeguards all citizens' rights to freedom of and from religion.

Tags: Faith schools, School admissions