Church school statistics challenged by fair admissions campaigners

By staff writers
November 19, 2013

The Fair Admissions Campaign has disputed statistics from the Church of England on faith schools, and has challenged the Church to translate words into action.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper today (19 November 2013), the Rt Rev John Pritchard, the Bishop of Oxford and Chair of the Church of England’s Board of Education, claimed that the Church’s schools "fully reflect the society in which we live."

The bishop cited statistics allegedly showing that their schools are as inclusive as the national average. But the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC), supported both by religious and non-religious groups and individuals, says that this is a flawed approach to assessing how inclusive Church schools are.

To meaningfully reflect reality on the ground, schools should instead be compared to their local averages, FAC points out.

Bishop Pritchard writes: "At CofE secondary schools, 15 per cent of pupils are eligible for free school meals. With our mission to serve the poor and excluded, maybe this figure should be higher, but it is in line with the national average for non CofE schools, which is also 15 percent. One of the great accusations against Church schools is that they are predominantly for white, middle-class pupils whereas our statistics tell a different story. Our secondary schools serve approximately the same percentage of black or ethnic minority pupils as non-CofE secondary schools (25 per cent)."

But the Fair Admissions Campaign says that the correct way to compare the inclusivity of schools is to acknowledge that different schools are in different areas and to compare schools with others in their vicinity, not to extrapolate a singel conclusion from national average.

In these terms, FAC says, Church-controlled secondaries take nine per cent fewer pupils with English as an Additional Language, 13 per cent fewer pupils eligible for Free School Meals than their vicinities, and 24 per cent fewer Asian pupils -- with the difference in standing almost entirely due to religious selection in admissions.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chair of the Accord Coalition for inclusive education, commented: ‘It is no good quoting apparently benign statistics about school meals, but then stopping children from the 'wrong religion' or no religion from entering the school gates."

"The problem with faith-based admissions is not just the economic issue, but the way they segregate children of different backgrounds at a time when it is in the interest of both the children and society at large that they grow up learning together," said the Rabbi.

In his article, the Bishop of Oxford also claimed that Church schools are better schools academically and in terms of their ethos.

Jeremy Rodell, Chair of the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, corresponded today: "The more emphasis the Church of England places on the quality of its schools, the more outrageous the unfairness of denying access to them for non-Anglicans. Why should the choice of a good state funded church school be denied to children simply because of their parents’ religious practices?"

Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, which is a member of the Fair Admissions Campaign and a founder of the Accord Coalition, added: "The Bishop of Oxford is no doubt sincere in his wish that schools supported by the Church of England should be open and inclusive. But the current policy of the Board of Education that he chairs is an obstacle to realising this aim.

"A Christian ethos of genuine love for neighbours is not supported by favouring one's own community over and against others. It is undermined by such practices. What people require of the Church is that is matches its words with actions, because that is what the Christian message calls for."

Supporters of the Fair Admissions Campaign include the Accord Coalition, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, the British Humanist Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

* Fair Admissions Campaign: http://fairadmissions.org.uk

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