Public oppose faith school admissions 'cheating'

By agency reporter
April 22, 2018

A new YouGov survey has found that a majority of the public think it is ‘unacceptable’ for families to attend Church to get their child into a religiously affiliated school. The practice was considered ‘unacceptable’ by 56 per cent of people, compared to 22 per cent who viewed it as ‘acceptable’, meaning it is disapproved by a ratio of over five to two.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Rev Stephen Terry, said "People are right to oppose school places being obtained through what is in effect cheating. However, public pressure should not be directed at families, but at authorities that permit admission arrangements which are known to incentivise parents in this way.

"Faith groups associated with religiously selective schools may give themselves a boost and feel that they succeed in engaging with families interested in gaining a school place, but it is entirely bogus. Encouraging people to be insincere about their religious affiliation or commitment, in order to gain an unfair advantage over others who are acting honestly, undermines the reputations of these faith groups and risks diminishing their authority as moral guides and guardians.

"Yet again, religiously selective schools are having a potentially negative impact. They should be bringing out the best in people, not leading them into temptation. We call on the Government and faith schools’ own authorities to set religiously selective schools on a path which phases out discriminatory admission policies."

Findings from recent years suggest religiously selective admission arrangements are being widely abused. A 2013 survey commissioned by the education charity The Sutton Trust found six per cent of all parents with a child at a state funded school admitted to attending church services, when they did not previously, so their child could go to a faith school. For parents from socio-economic group A this figure rose to 10 per cent.

A 2015 survey commissioned by ITV revealed that of parents of primary school aged children:

  • 12.6 per cent admitted to having pretended to practice a faith in which they did not believe to get their child into a desirable faith school
  • 23.7 per cent said they would if they had to do so
  • 13.7 per cent said they had baptised their child purely to gain a school place

The figures demonstrate that a substantial proportion of families of pupils who attend state funded faith schools will have feigned religious belief or commitment with a view to obtaining a school place.

Religious selection presents schools and faith groups with a series of short term conflicts of interest which groups like Accord believe increases the need for leadership and pressure to ensure schools change. Such selection is consistently shown to advantage children from affluent families. By skewing the social and ability profile of pupils admitted, the selection boosts the results and so apparent standing of the schools concerned. In turn, this makes the schools more popular, which continues to incentivise families to obtain the necessary religious affiliation or record of worship to gain access to them.

* Accord is a wide coalition of organisations which includes religious groups, humanists, teachers, trade unionists, educationalists and civil rights activists, working together for inclusive education. Although Accord’s supporters derive inspiration for their values from different sources, they are united in wanting to ensure that state funded schools are made open and suitable for all children, regardless of their or their parents’ religious or non-religious beliefs.

* The survey results are here.

* Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education http://accordcoalition.org.uk/

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