Discrimination is 'what gives church schools their Christian ethos'

By staff writers
August 31, 2008

A well known supporter of faith schools has said that the discriminatory practices of church schools are what give them their special Christian ethos.

Writing in the Independent on Sunday, Catholic Melanie MacDonagh, championed the routine discrimination in employment and admissions of church schools, and challenged the claims of the Faith Schools' Providers Group made on Friday, that faith schools never discriminate.

Her comments come ahead of the launch of Accord on Monday, a coalition of academics, teachers, and religious leaders, which seeks to end the discrimination of faith schools in the appointment of teaching and non teaching staff, and in admission arrangements.

Although funded by the taxpayer, faith schools can legally give first choice in school places to children of families who hold the same religious views as the school, and give jobs only to those who share the school's faith. Such policies have been defended by representatives of faith schools, but who have denied that they are discriminating.

In response to the new coalition, the Faith Schools' Providers Group issued a press release saying: "Faith communities entirely refute the allegation that faith schools are discriminatory".

But writing in today's Independent on Sunday Melanie MacDonagh championed them by saying that discrimination was “what makes a faith school a faith school."

She continues: "Actually, can we cut to the chase here? Most of them are actually church schools run by the Church of England and the Roman Catholic church – they're the ones that secular-minded parents are lying and cheating and going to church to get their children into.

“But it's precisely the fact that they are discriminatory that makes them Catholic, or Anglican, or Jewish, or Muslim".

In response Ekklesia's co-director Jonathan Bartley said: "It is refreshing to hear a defender of faith schools tell the truth and accept that faith schools are routinely discriminating in both employment and admissions. It is deeply regrettable though that such discrimination should be the basis of what defines and forms the religious ethos of a school.

"The task now is to try and move to the debate onwards, and see how such practices might be eliminated. Ending such discrimination need not mean that faith schools lose their distinctiveness. Many faith schools already have headteachers and staff who do not share their schools faith, which shows that faith schools do not need to discriminate to maintain their ethos. Indeed, an end to discriminatory practices can only improve it."

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.