Church schools should end discrimination says Government adviser
Faith-based schools should be open to any parents willing to subscribe to their ethos, not just those who follow the religion or go to church regularly, a Government adviser has said.
The current system, which allows some faith schools to set discriminatory admission criteria, has led to a two-tier system and social division, said Sir Peter Lampl, the chairman of the Sutton Trust, an education charity.
Sir Peter, who was consulted by the Government over its White Paper proposals, said he supported the reforms to allow all schools to become self governing and take charge of their admissions. But he believed that it would further divide schools between those recruiting middle-class pupils and others serving disadvantaged areas unless accompanied by a much stronger national admissions code.
Research published by the trust yesterday claimed that schools allowed to decide their own criteria for admitting pupils, such as faith schools, were the most socially divisive.
Comprehensive schools responsible for their admissions - foundation schools, faith schools and city technology colleges - were much more likely to feature in the top 200 for examination results than those under the local authority umbrella, according to the research. The schools, which make up 31 per cent of state secondaries, take 70 per cent of places in the top 200.
But the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals in the top schools allowed to set their admission criteria averaged 5.8 per cent compared with 13.7 per cent in their post code area. Schools such as the London Oratory, the Roman Catholic comprehensive where the Prime Minister sent his three eldest children, require families to prove that they are regular churchgoers, play an active part in their parishes and support their children's education.
Sir Peter had recently visited the London Oratory and Phoenix High School in Hammersmith, west London. "Both are comprehensives and right next to each other but they have a very different social mix," he said. Only 7.9 per cent of the 1,338 pupils at the Oratory are eligible for free school meals compared with 56 per cent at the Phoenix.
Christian critics have also pointed to what many see as hypocrisy, with many parents attending churches simply to get their children into church schools.
"As long as a parent is willing for their child to be educated according to the Catholic ethos and signs up to it then they should be eligible for a place. We are all aware of people who suddenly have a religious conversion when they have kids and there must be something funny going on when 10 per cent of faith schools are Catholic, which is higher than the Catholic population" Sir Peter said.
Schools in charge of their own admissions averaged 7.9 per cent of pupils with free school meals compared with 13.7 per cent in their local areas. Faith schools had the biggest gap - 5.6 per cent of poorer pupils compared with 14.6 per cent locally, followed by foundation schools (4.2 per cent compared with 8.7 per cent) and city technology colleges (12 per cent compared with 25.6 per cent).
"The White Paper will be a recipe for social division if schools become trust schools in charge of their admissions without a strengthening of the code," he said.
Sir Peter wants over-subscribed schools to look at the possible use of ballots in order to allocate school places to be fair to people living further afield.
He is also urging the introduction of "benchmarks" for the proportion of pupils from disadvantaged communities that each school should be expected to teach.
The government has recently backed down over proposals in its Equality Bill which would have allowed faith schools to further discriminate.
[Also on Ekklesia: Government backs down on faith schools discrimination; Humanists and Christians argue against faith schools; Leading Scottish Christian voices opposition to faith schools; Faith and politics controversy ahead of BBC2 documentary; Concern expressed over discrimination against the non-religious; God and the politicians - BBC2 - a response; Leading humanist calls for renewed cooperation with believers; Government plans reopen debate on faith schools]