Public overwhelmingly opposes religious selection in state funded schools

By staff writers
15 Nov 2012

Nearly three-quarters of the British public (73 per cent) agree that "state funded schools, including state funded faith schools, should not be allowed to select or discriminate against prospective pupils on religious grounds in their admissions policy".

This is the conclusion of the new ComRes poll commissioned by the Accord Coalition, which campaigns for inclusive education and against discrimination in all schools.

A third of state funded schools in England and Wales are faith schools, and they are all permitted to operate an admissions policy that discriminates against children for religious reasons, although such practices are contested.

The chair of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said: "We call on the Government to end a right to religious discrimination in schools. Not only does selecting pupils on religious grounds contribute to greater segregation in the school system, and thereby risk undermining community cohesion, but it also goes against widely held understandings of fairness in society, as shown by the survey."

Rabbi Romain continued: "Rather than helping to segregate, all state funded faith schools should open their doors to the fresh air of inter-cultural mixing and understanding. They should not look to serve themselves, but be part of their wider community, and to achieve this the legal exemptions from equality law that allow faith schools to discriminate in their admissions policy must be closed by Parliament."

"If this issue is not tackled then it will only become an even more vexatious and controversial issue, as more schools are being opened that are allowed to discriminate in this way, and as competition between families for places at better performing schools intensifies. Only next week a local campaign group from South West London will be taking their local authority to the High Court to prevent a proposed new school from opening that will be able to select all of their pupils on religious grounds, rather than only half," said the Accord chair.

In 2011, the Anglican Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, who is the Church of England’s episcopal spokesperson on education in the House of Lords, suggested that Anglican schools should only admit 10 per cent of their pupils with recourse to religion.

However, he was shouted down by some within the Church, even though religious selection in admissions is out of step with public feeling, as demonstrated by the new poll, and creates deep discomfort within significant sections of the churches too.

While 73 per cent of respondents agreed that "state funded schools, including state funded faith schools, should not be allowed to select or discriminate against prospective pupils on religious grounds in their admissions policy", half (50 per cent) stated that they agreed “strongly”. Only 18 per cent of respondents disagreed.

ComRes interviewed 2,008 adults online between 2nd and 4th November 2012. Data was weighted to be demographically representative of all British adults aged 18+. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

Ekklesia is a founding member of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education (http://accordcoalition.org.uk/), which brings a range of religious and non-religious organisations together to seek the reform of faith schools based on principles of non-discrimination and openness.

* The full survey results and field work data can be found here (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): http://accordcoalition.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Accord-Coalitio...

* Opinion poll: religious selection or discrimination in school admissions: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17383

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