Fair Admissions Campaign seeks inclusive schooling for all

By staff writers
June 6, 2013

All state-funded schools should be open to all children, regardless of their parents’ religion, says the newly launched Fair Admissions Campaign.

The new, widely supported campaign has been launched in London today, with backing from both religious and non-religious figures, including the Christian think-tank Ekklesia.

The campaign "seeks to bring equity to a system that should be a beacon of fairness, yet is mired in discrimination", FAC declares.

The campaign focuses solely on the issue of religious selection in admissions in state schools in England and Wales, and its consequences in terms of religious, racial and ethnic, and social and economic segregation.

It has is launched on the back of three findings announced today in each of the three areas in which faith-based admissions can have discriminatory effects.

In the area of racial discrimination, a new article by solicitor Dan Rosenburg of Maxwell Gillott and barrister Raj Desai of Matrix Chambers, published in the Education Law Journal, has argued that religious selection by faith schools often constitutes indirect racial discrimination, which may be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

The authors contrast the relatively homogenous era in which faith schools were first established with the increasingly diverse age we are in today, arguing that "faith based admissions criteria may place individuals from a racial group at a particular disadvantage compared to persons without this protected characteristic".

On the issue of socio-economic discrimination: Over the next few months, the Campaign will also be mapping state schools by their admissions policies, identifying the most religiously and socio-economically selective schools, areas and Dioceses. Initial work focusing on socio-economic selection has found that secondary schools without a religious character have on average 26 per cent more pupils eligible for free school meals than the first half of their post code and 30 per cent more pupils eligible than their local authority.

In contrast, Roman Catholic secondary schools have 20 per cent fewer pupils in receipt of free school meals than the average for their postcode and 23 per cent fewer for the average for their local authority. Voluntary Aided Church of England secondary schools have eight per cent and 18 per cent fewer than the average for their post code and local authority respectively. Most Church schools were set up to serve children from poor families, so serving the better off in their community is a distortion to their original mission.

Regarding religious discrimination, the Church of England’s London Diocesan Board for Schools has told the Campaign that "Our policy is to encourage our Church of England Schools to have half open places and half foundation places. For the new schools we are promoting we are going for all open places", it reports.

The Fair Admissions Campaign says it is pleased to welcome this initial step and would like to encourage other dioceses to adopt similar approaches.

Professor Ted Cantle, founder of the Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo) and author of The Cantle Report, commissioned and published by the Home Office after 2001’s summer of riots, spoke at the launch of the campaign today.

He commented: "One of the key issues which the world now faces is 'how we live together in an era of globalised and diverse communities?' It must be clear – especially from recent events – that so many of the tensions and conflicts in the UK and elsewhere are based upon faith and ethnic divisions. Our communities remain riven by the differences which we should be learning to set aside."

He added: "In a time of growing extremism, we need to recognise that religiously selective schools are an anachronistic bastion of a divided society. And instead of moving towards the integration of our communities, we are introducing more divides through a growing number of minority faith schools with selective admission policies."

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chair of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education and minister of Maidenhead Synagogue, said: "Whether you are religious or secular, a key value is fairness and we can all sign up to 'Thou shalt not discriminate between one child and another' – yet that is exactly what happens with current admission procedures: we not only divide children according to their belief systems, but teach them a terrible lesson about us and them and at the very age when we should be promoting inclusivity and equality. It is the wrong message and at precisely the wrong time."

Welcoming the launch of the Fair Admissions Campaign, Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, said: "In taking their core commitments seriously, the Christian churches and other faith communities should be at the forefront of seeking equal treatment and non-discrimination in all areas of life, not least education.

"Selection based on the beliefs or non-beliefs of pupils or parents is clearly discriminatory and operates in neither the general public interest nor in the interest of particular belief communities. The Campaign for Fair Admissions is an important initiative in getting people from both religious and non-religious backgrounds to work together for the common good in an important area of society," he concluded.

* The Fair Admissions Campaign website can be found at: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/

* Fair school admissions: research and rationale - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18500

* More on Ekklesia about the Fair Admissions Campaign: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/FairAdmissionsCampaign

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