Schools Adjudicator ruling puts Church of England under pressure over socially selective faith schools

November 18, 2011

A schools watchdog ruling has highlighted the controversy surrounding admission arrangements of many faith schools that covertly favour pupils from middle class backgrounds.

The Government’s official school admissions watchdog, the Office of Schools Adjudicator, ruled this week against Coloma Convent Girls Schools in Croydon for operating an admissions policy that rewarded applications from children whose families were more active in the Catholic Church. The school was reported to the Schools Adjudicator by its own Dioceses because it believed there was evidence that local parents were participating in parish activities in order to gain access to the school, and that this was disadvantaging children from immigrant communities and one parents families.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, said “we are pleased by the Schools Adjudicator’s ruling and that the Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark has tried to ensure that one of its schools does not operate an admission policy that encourages covert social selection, where families from better resourced and more aspirational backgrounds can play admissions rules to get their children into a better performing school.

“However, the ruling leaves the Church of England in a highly embarrassing position, as unlike most Catholic schools, a great many Church of England schools do award places to children from families who can show that they are more active in the Church.

“Not only is there firm statistical evidence from the Government showing that faith schools admit fewer pupils with special educational needs and fewer pupils in receipt of free school meals as non-faith schools, but we now have the Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark quite rightly acknowledging that admission policies that reward families who can show they are more active in their respective Church is open to abuse and can reward children from middle class families, at the expense of others.

“The Church of England can no longer sustain the status quo or put off avoiding this issue; something must be done. Arguments that people do not take advantage of existing admission arrangements by feigning or playing up their religion or religiosity to gain access to better performing faith schools no longer has credibility.

“The evidence is mounting, and is already clear to many of its lay people and clergy, that religious admission policies do not only help to segregate our children on religious lines, but increasingly also on socio-economic ones. Faith schools should be made open to all, providing education for its own sake. This is what Church schools were originally set up to do, and they should return to their noble origins.”



The Office of the Schools Adjudicator’s determination in regards to Coloma Convent Girls School’s admission policy can be found here.

The report “Faith Schools: Admissions and Performance” by the House of Commons Library published in March 2009 showed that “Overall faith schools have a lower proportion of pupils with SEN [special educational needs]. In 2008 1.2% of pupils at mainstream state faith schools had statemented SEN and 15.9% unstatemented. This compares to 1.7% statemented and 18.9% unstatemented [at] schools with no religious character.” (page 5).

A parliamentary question from Adrian Sanders MP answered on 25 February 2009 found that 11.5% of pupils at faith schools were in receipt in free schools meals, but 15.7% in non-faith schools.

Can Competition Improve School Standards? The Case of Faith Schools in England (2009) by Dr Rebecca Allen and Dr Anna Vignoles found ‘… significant evidence that religious schools are associated with higher levels of pupil sorting across schools, but no evidence that competition from faith schools raises area-wide pupil attainment’.

A 2007 study by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that where faith schools were their own pupil admissions authority they were ten times more likely to be highly unrepresentative of their surrounding area than other state maintained schools.

An ICM survey for Channel 4 in August 2010 found that 59% of adults believed schools should be for everyone, regardless of religion.

A survey by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner in their March 2011 report ‘Children and Young People’s View on Education Policy’ found that pupils opposed schools selecting on the grounds of religion by 64% to 20% (page 27).

For more information on the consequences of current policy on faith schools please see Accord’s databank of information containing high quality research on the topic from a range of respected and reliable sources.

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