Church schools and admissions discrimination

Body: 

Commenting on the Church of England's newly-published guidance on admissions for C of E schools and for Diocesan Boards of Education, Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, said:

"It is very disappointing news that the Church has not followed up earlier pledges to at least reduce religious discrimination in admissions - which is what selection on grounds of belief amounts to.

"Schools funded by taxpayers should be open to people of all backgrounds, whether they are supported by a religious or a non-religious charity. The beliefs of pupils and parents should not form the basis of admission, or refusal of admission, to educational institutions intended to serve the whole community and financed on that basis.

"Indeed, discrimination on the grounds of religion surely ought to be against the ethos of any religious foundation school - not least a Christian-backed one.

"Likewise, publicly-funded schools of whatever character should provide a rounded education about different beliefs (both religious and non-religious) in our plural world, and should enable pupils to explore those beliefs critically and sympathetically, as part of encountering others from different backgrounds in person - rather than just in theory.

"However, schools need to leave the business of specifically religious or non-religious belief formation to the communities and families concerned, instead of pushing just one view to the exclusion of others.

"This even-handedness is as important for Christian parents and pupils in a non-religious foundation school, as it is for other believers or non-believers in a church foundation one.

"The idea that it is the job of a local school explicitly to 'challenge' the beliefs of some pupils but not others, as appears to be being said in the guidance, is unfair and inappropriate.

"The Church of England needs to be encouraged to think again about these issues, to hold to the public commitments it has made acknowledging that discrimination needs to be tackled, to respond to genuine concerns about its policies in schools overwhelmingly funded for and by the public as a whole, and to participate in a wider, non-sectarian debate about religion and schooling in the twenty-first century."

Ekklesia is a founding member of the Accord Coalition, which works for substantial, positive reform of policies concerning faith schools.