British Humanist Association exposes the scandal of school admissions.

School admissions are one of the great “under the counter” scandals of our society. We’ve created massive incentives in the system for schools to get an intake that is likely to be high achieving and not likely to present extra challenges. Then we’ve allowed increasing numbers of schools to manage their own admissions. Not surprisingly the result is an increasingly segregated system by class, religion and ethnicity.

Yet this goes virtually unchallenged. Essentially this is the result of an unspoken deal between the socially and religiously selective schools and the people who benefit from the system. So Michael Gove was unlikely to take on Greycoat’s admissions practices which blatantly breached the admissions code because he (and David Cameron) benefited personally – getting brownie points for choosing a so-called comprehensive school while in practice getting into one of the most selective schools in the country.

The Fair Admissions campaign has done a fantastic job in identifying the level of segregation in our schools. At http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map/ you can see just how discriminatory our secondary schools are. Now the British Humanist Association has issued a major report unpicking just how religious schools manipulate their admissions. You can find the full report, appropriately entitled “An Unholy Mess” at http://fairadmissions.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/An-Unholy-Mess.pdf.

It explores in detail the admissions policies of a sample of religious (and not just Christian) schools. It found breaches of the code in almost every one. The campaign then went on to present objections to the Schools Adjudicator. It transpired that “the Adjudicator did not simply find breaches of the Code in every one of the schools we objected to; it invariably found further breaches beyond those that we had initially identified.”

The list of code breaches is very long but these are a few of the most significant:

• Widespread issues with clarity, fairness and objectivity
• Almost 90% of schools were found to be asking for information from parents that they did not need.
• A majority of schools were found not to be dealing properly with looked-after and previously looked-after children
• A quarter of schools were found not to make clear how children with statements of special educational needs were admitted
• Over a quarter of schools were found to be religiously selecting in ways not allowed in guidance from their religious authorities.
• Almost a fifth of schools were found to be requiring practical or financial support to associated organisations.

It would of course be only fair to point out that there are increasing numbers of highly segregated non- religious schools. The growth of academies and free schools is massively increasing the scale of the problem.

It is also worth saying that there are seriously questionable practices that are sadly permitted under the code – one of the most common is banding in relation to the applicants rather than against the profile of the local community.

But above all though, we need to be clear that this issue really matters. It matters to individuals – the report includes some personal testimonies and here is just one example: “I can’t understand how we can have three schools 0.4 miles away but due to religious discrimination we are unable to get in any. I now won’t be able to return to work as I can’t get my son to his school and me into work.” Mother, Surrey

But more than that it matters to our society as a whole. Professor Ted Cantle writes in the preface to the BHA report: “it seems to me that if we had to pick any one part of society that we wish to be a microcosm of our society as a whole, it is our schools – as it is through our schools that prejudices can be dispelled before they have a chance to develop and it is where tolerance and understanding should be inculcated. If our schools are not inclusive, our society cannot be.”

And Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA writes: “Not only does the system provide schools with ample scope to act on the perverse incentive to admit only the most ‘promising’ children, it encourages and often forces parents to lie about their religion in order get their children into the local school. But perhaps worst of all, it defines those children by beliefs they are too young to confidently hold for themselves and then seeks to divide them on that basis.”

The time for more tinkering with the Admissions Code is surely over. At the very least we have to say that admission procedures for every school should be set and administered independently. School self- interest cannot be allowed to be the main driver of the system.

And even more fundamentally, we have to challenge the privileged position of religious schools. A multi (and no-) faith society should not allow itself to be divided in this way. These are schools overwhelmingly paid for by us all – there should be no right to discriminate and indoctrinate in any public school system.

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3 Comments on “British Humanist Association exposes the scandal of school admissions.”

  1. […] Source: British Humanist Association exposes the scandal of school admissions. […]

  2. David Pavett says:

    I think that everyone who thought about it a bit always expected this to happen. The problem has been an almost total unwillingness within Labour to discuss the issue of faith schools. Now the problems are multiplying. It is an issue we cannot afford to ignore any more. We need a strategy for backing out of state support for religious education. This is not a question of warfare between believers and secularists but between those who believe in inclusive education and those who do not.

    A group of religious leaders called a year ago for an end to faith schools.

    ACCORD has set out the basic principles which I think we should all agree on and promote:

    1. All state-funded schools should operate inclusive admissions policies that take no account of pupils’ – or their parents’ – religion or beliefs, and operate recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief;
    2. All pupils in state funded schools should have an entitlement to receive Religious Education that follows an objective, fair and balanced syllabus for education about religious and non-religious beliefs;
    3. RE, Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE) and Citizenship should be made accountable under a single inspection regime;
    4. State funded schools should provide their pupils with inclusive, inspiring and stimulating assemblies in place of compulsory acts of worship;
    5. State funded schools should again be inspected on how they promote community cohesion.

    It may be that incremental steps will be needed to reach the modest goals of the above but we should at least be clear about that goal. I think that it would be a dereliction of our duty to be open and honest about our views to continue to ignore the problem of faith schools. We are sleep walking to a social disaster by allowing a continual increase in the ethnic and religious segregation in state-funded schools.

    The Indian economist and social theorist Armatya Sen warned strongly against faith schools in his important book Identity and Violence in which he wrote the following:

    The move toward faith-based schools in Britain reflects also a particular vision of Britain as “a federation of communities,” rather than as a collectivity of human beings living in Britain with diverse differences, of which religious and community-based distinctions constitute only a part (along with differences in language, literature, politics, class, gender, location, and other characteristics). It is unfair to children who have not yet had much opportunity of reasoning and choice to be put into rigid boxes guided by one specific criterion of categorization, and to be told: “that is your identity and this is all you are going to get …

    Rather than reducing existing state-financed faith-based education, actually adding to them – Muslim schools, Hindu schools, and Sikh schools to preexisting Christian ones – can have the effect of reducing the role of reasoning which children may have the opportunity to cultivate and use. And this is happening at a time when there is a great need for broadening the horizon of understanding of other people and other groups ….

    Most of us agree that faith-based schools are a massive educational problem and that they are totally inappropriate in a diverse society such as ours. Let’s start debating it as a Labour issue.

    The good news is that Lucy Powell said, before becoming Shadow Minister for Education, that she agrees with the aims of ACCORD. Let’s see now what that means in policy terms.

  3. David Pavett says:

    Correction. I said above that the good news is that Lucy Powell had made clear her support for the the campaign of ACCORD against religious selection in state-funded schools. I now think I was mistaken. In trying to check this I have found no evidence. I think I confused a report which both mentioned her appointment as Shadow minister and Jeremy Corbyn’s support for ACCORD. Maybe a touch of wishful thinking on my part.