Faking faith for a school place

By Simon Barrow
October 1, 2010

Defenders of current church schools policies say that admissions favouring church-going children over others protect a school's 'Christian values' and ethos. But since when have self-interest, discrimination and lying been the values promoted by the Gospel?

The issue is raised once again in an article by Andrew Penman in the Independent, entitled 'I faked religion to find a school'.

This follows on from comments about the unfairness of current admissions policies by a church school governor, and from a parish priest becoming "increasingly alarmed at the subterfuge, double standards and straightforward lying to which parents feel they have to resort to gain a place at what they think is... the local school that offers the best educational chances for their child."

Penman writes: "I faked being a Christian to get my children into the local Church of England primary school... I am an atheist, but for at least two years before my son reached primary-school age I went along to the local church, along with my wife. And so it came to pass that our son got the school place."

He adds: "I didn't choose the selection criteria that meant that half the places were reserved for churchgoers, thus discriminating against local families who did not follow this particular brand of religion. This was not a situation of my choosing. I went to church under duress, because that was the only way to be sure of a place."

The Church's response? To launch an award for "fostering good community relations" which is open only to its own schools, and which consciously excludes admissions and employment policies as criteria. This is dissembling of the highest order.

Mr Penman's is a not an uncommon story, sadly. The answer is not to blame parents. It is to ensure that all schools, whether they are sponsored by religious bodies or not, should be open to everyone - with admissions criteria being about need, concern for the vulnerable, and a good social and cultural mix.

Similarly, there should be an end to discrimination in employment on the basis of religion, a balanced curriculum on religion and belief, and assemblies that reflect the variety of backgrounds of the pupils. Such policies are what the Accord Coalition to promote community schooling, which Ekklesia co-founded, works for. They also reflect the core Christian values of love of neighbour, justice and unselfishness.

As an Anglican, I will rejoice on the day when the Church of England wakes up and recognises this, and thereby stops requiring others to "bear false witness". In the meantime, we have to go on telling the truth.


Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia, and a member of the Accord steering group.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.