School Admissions: Religious Discrimination Should Be Outlawed And Fines Imposed

The National Secular Society (NSS) has written to the Secretary of State for Education demanding fines for schools which fail to follow the codes and that schools no longer be permitted to be their own admissions authorities (letter available on request).

The call comes after the NSS dismissed the revised Schools Admissions Code issued by the DCSF yesterday as being “half-hearted” and “failing to address the root of the problems”. The survey released yesterday shows that faith schools are cynically and systematically hijacking the best pupils, which is doing untold harm to adjacent community schools.

Keith Porteous Wood commented: “The Minister seems worryingly coy in not stating openly that admission code abuse is overwhelmingly to be found in faith schools. The only way he can deliver his aim that “no parent or child will be disadvantaged by unfair admission arrangements” is to outlaw all religious discrimination in admissions to all maintained schools.

“The wholesale abuse revealed by the Department’s survey demonstrates conclusively that faith schools cannot be trusted to follow the code even though it is the taxpayer who pays all their running costs. In Barnet there were only three breaches of the code in community schools, but over a hundred in faith schools. And that is before taking into account two Catholic schools that refused to answer the survey. The only way to stem this abuse is heavy fines for schools abusing the admissions code, and their head teachers.

“We have also asked Mr Balls to demonstrate that he really wants fairness by stopping schools from being their own admissions authorities. In Barnet, while only 5 per cent of community schools were found to have breached the code (and this was slightly), over two thirds of schools who were their own admissions authorities (overwhelmingly faith schools) were in breach, most of them seriously. All areas surveyed showed a similar pattern.

“The survey exposed the way faith schools cherry-pick the most promising children from the most affluent families. That they did so was not in doubt, as has been shown by the findings by the LSE and Institute of Education. The effect is to deprive community schools of such pupils, making their already-difficult task nearly impossible. The churches should hang their heads in shame, but sadly their repeated denials show they do not even have the grace to do that.

“The only way to stop this abuse altogether is for religious discrimination on admissions to all maintained schools to be outlawed. All pupils, regardless of what faith they or their parents have, or no faith, should have equal access to every maintained school.”

3 April 2008