Stop Discrimination in Faith Schools Admissions

The National Secular Society welcomed the adjournment debate today in the House of Commons on the admissions policies of faith schools.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, commented: “Many maintained religious schools are currently permitted to operate discriminatory admissions policies which favour pupils from religious families living some distance from the school over local pupils.

“We call for the forthcoming Education Bill to end to all discrimination in admissions to the third of maintained schools which are religious schools. Given that these schools are publicly funded and so numerous, it is an unacceptable discrimination against pupils from non-religious families for such preference to continue to be given. Needless to say, no counterbalancing preference is given to children of non-religious families in admissions to community schools.

“Religious schools admit a materially smaller proportion of pupils from less well-off families, as demonstrated by recent studies based on the proportion of children claiming free school meals*. In many cases church schools are tantamount to public schools on the rates. They tend to attract aspirant parents, but less well-off parents or those who are less socially confident are less inclined to seek admission for their children – or if they do, to be less successful in doing so.

“The admission policy for religious schools for many parents amounts to “admission by hypocrisy”. It is becoming accepted as a chore of middle class life for aspirant parents to feign belief and attend church regularly simply to help gain access for their child to the local church school. Given that church attendance has been in decline for the last six decades, very few parents seeking admission for their children would otherwise attend. Expensive uniforms and pressure to contribute large sums to the school PTA can also deter less well-off local parents from even applying to religious schools.

“There are victims of discriminatory admissions policies in religious schools. Community schools end up with a much larger proportion of children from less advantaged backgrounds and of those for whom English is not a first language. Too often these proportions are swollen unreasonably to the detriment of all their pupils simply by the admissions policies of religious schools.”

* For Church of England Primaries this is 12.2% of pupils compared with over 20% for community primary schools. Hansard 12/07/2001, plus studies by Institute for Research in Integrated Strategies and Sir Peter Lampl/Sutton Trust.