British Humanist Association exposes the scandal of school admissions.Posted: October 12, 2015
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.