Rumours of the death of faith school admissions privileges have been greatly exaggerated

The Mail on Sunday last week carried a story that set our pulses racing. The headline read: “Church schools will not be able to select pupils under Balls adviser’s plans.” The story said that Richard Brooks, the new senior aide to Schools Secretary Ed Balls, thought Church school selection privileges were ‘unfair’ and wanted a new system that would hand admissions systems back to local authorities who would force Church schools to take a broad range of children based on their abilities and family income.

Closer reading of the story shows that it is based on a report from the Institute of Public Policy Research, a think tank with close ties to New Labour, at which Mr Brooks was employed before being head-hunted for Mr Balls’ department. The IPPR report had shown categorically that “faith schools” are socially unrepresentative of the areas that they serve and that they covertly select pupils to screen out disadvantaged and badly behaved pupils.

The Mail on Sunday story said that “the Government refused to deny that the plan was under active consideration”, but the following day the Daily Telegraph reported that “the Department for Children, Schools and Families said last night that a rule change was not under consideration.”

Indeed, any suggestion that “faith schools” should lose the right to impose injustice on parents would create a deafening screech from the vested interests at Church House and the Diocese of Westminster.

Despite the fact that one report after another has shown that church schools ruthlessly cherry-pick their intake in order to achieve the results they do, the churches continue to claim that the schools’ success is all down to their religious ethos. (We will overlook — as the churches want us to — the fact that there are “faith schools” at the bottom of the league tables as well as at the top).

The Government is in thrall to the churches. It has created a monster that it cannot now control. And it is continuing to feed that monster in order to make it stronger. More “faith schools”, more privileges, more kow-towing to the demands of bishops and imams – despite the accumulating evidence that this is creating the exact opposite effect to the one they want.

And that’s before we get to the question of minority faith schools and the threat they pose to “community cohesion”.

Let us hope that the arrival of Mr Brooks at the department of education will inject some sense into the debate – and put some fire in the belly of Ed Balls. Let’s have an education secretary at last who is prepared to say “no” the churches. The effect will not be as catastrophic as the Government fears. Go on, Ed, call the Archbishop’s bluff.

See also:
If Ed Balls wants better schools he must scrap faith selection by Polly Toynbee
Murphy O’Connor lauds “Catholic education”
Catholic school promotes AIDS bigotry

9 November 2007