Government adviser says schools should not select on the basis of faith

By staff writers
November 5, 2007

Plans being considered by a senior government education adviser may see church and other faith-based schools lose their power to select pupils - something which has led to widespread accusations of discrimination against them.

According to a report in the Sunday Mail newspaper, Richard Brooks, the new senior aide to Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families since June 2007, makes the point that faith schools may be causing "segregation by social class" because of their policies.

Brooks' analysis says that powers currently enjoyed by Church of England and Roman Catholic schools to choose children based on their faith are "unfair" - a charge regularly made by critics from both religious and non-religious backgrounds.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the British Humanist Association, the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, and concerned individuals and groups within Hindu, Jewish and other communities have raised similar concerns and called for an end to all discriminatory practices.

But Ekklesia has been told that government advisers have been deterred from facing the issue because of the popularity of selective schools among middle class parents, and because the anti-religious rhetoric of some critics has led government wrongly to conclude that opposition is from "just a few malcontents".

In fact opinion surveys have shown widespread public support for inclusive, community education; and both parents and teachers have expressed concern about the special exemptions given to academies and faith schools.

As an alternative to the current situation regarding selection, Mr Brooks apparently wants a new fairer admissions system in which faith schools would be required to take a broad range of children based on their abilities and family income.

One of the schools that would be effected by the reforms, says the Mail, which is antagonistic to any change, would be The London Oratory, the elite Roman Catholic school attended by former PM Tony Blair's oldest children.

The school recently fought a High Court battle to retain its powers to interview parents of prospective pupils to assess the family's level of religious devotion before admission.

Critics of the current policy say that an end to the selection of pupils on faith grounds would widen opportunities for the great majority.

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