The Accord Coalition for inclusive schooling has welcomed the Church of England's encouragement of those in education to include “outsiders”, but has also urged it to take practical steps to make this a reality in its own policies and procedures.
The chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said: "A major step forward - one that would both benefit society at large and show the Church was committed to equality - would be to discuss openly how the bar against non-Christians and non-Anglicans being admitted to state-funded Church of England schools affects children, parents and local communities."
He added: "Religion and discrimination are uncomfortable bed-fellows, and we need to find ways to end historic privileges and promote inclusivity."
The Church of England's Chief Education Officer, the Rev Jan Ainsworth, has today urged those involved in education to consider how they can “include an outsider” this Sunday, as part of the 2013 Education Sunday.
Education Sunday is an ecumenical and annual day of prayer and celebration for those engaged in education in England and Wales. Churches Together have provided new resources for Churches and education institutions wishing to mark the event.
Research from the Guardian in March 2012 showed that most faith schools in England admitted a smaller proportion of children in receipt of free schools meals (a Government indicator of deprivation) than lived in their respective local area.
At present faith schools, while mostly or wholly funded by the general taxpayer, are allowed by law to discriminate against non-adherents in admissions and employment.
The Accord Coalition brings together a broad spectrum of both religious and non-religious opinion committed to reform which ensures that all publicly funded schools are open to all.
Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia, which is one of the founders of the Accord Coalition, commented: "The Church of England is right to say that education should pay particular attention to those who are excluded and marginalised in society. That is particularly true from a Christian perspective.
"However, the Church's current selective admissions policies work against what they are trying to achieve, and are seen by many, both within and beyond the Christian community, as running contrary to their core message.
"Now would be a good time for the Church of England Board of Education to enter a constructive dialogue over how to move its policies and practices decisively towards inclusion, in ways that benefit all children."
* Accord Coalition: http://accordcoalition.org.uk/