Faith schools appear to be routinely breaking the law over admissions, a Government survey has found.
Ed Balls, schools secretary, announced yesterday that his Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) had randomly picked three authorities – Barnet, Manchester and Northamptonshire – to examine if local schools were following the new admissions code.
Faith schools were found to be the main offenders.
Mr Balls said 570 primary and secondary schools had been examined in the three areas. The department said the information had been gathered from public sources such as school websites, and was now being verified with schools and local authorities.
Mr Balls said breaches of the rules included checking “the marital and financial status of parents” and “asking parents to commit to make a financial contribution as a condition of admission”. Both measures favour children with stable home lives or from high socio-economic groups – which, in both cases, is correlated with higher academic achievement. Mr Balls said that “in many cases” financial contributions had been worth “hundreds of pounds a year”.
In one case, parents were told to complete a standing order at the time they applied for a place.
Mr Balls said such action was "totally unacceptable".
The main transgressors, based on the DCSF evidence, appear to be faith schools. John Edwards, deputy director of children’s services at Manchester council, said all the schools on the list sent by the DCSF to the council were faith schools, “mixed between Jewish, Roman Catholic and Anglican”.
Schools Minister Jim Knight said some of the unlawful activities uncovered in the survey had been banned under primary legislation. He said: "The fact that there are some things that are singled out in primary legislation that are still going on is shocking."
The Catholic Education Service, which supervises England’s Catholic state schools, said it was “confident that the admissions arrangements of the vast majority of Catholic schools comply with the School Admissions Code and are fair and transparent”.
But Andrew Copson, Director of Education and Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association (BHA) commented: "The BHA has been arguing for years that many faith schools use social selection to pick the brightest and most affluent pupils, but even we were shocked by the flagrant illegality of these schools' behaviour.
"It shows in the starkest terms how faith schools rely on selection, not ethos, to maintain their results. What is most concerning is that these abuses came to light after the Department for Children, Schools and Families looked in detail at procedures in just three Local Education Authorities. That means that there are still 147 more LEAs where this could still be going on. What further evidence does the government need to convince them that reform of state funded faith schools is now essential?"
Ministers have written to 119 schools which have control over their own admissions in these three areas, warning them that they must comply with the new statutory school admissions code which came into force last year.