Local campaigners to challenge loop-hole in religious discrimination in admissions at new faith schools

August 29, 2012

The Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC) has been granted permission for a Judicial Review of their local Council’s decision to approve the opening of a Voluntary Aided faith school that will be able to select all of its pupils on religious grounds, rather than open an Academy faith school, where such discrimination would  be capped at 50% of places.

RISC was established in 2011 with a key aim of opposing religious selection in the admission policy of local schools and unites a wide range of local people in the London Borough of Richmond. When proposals were put forward for a new Catholic secondary school, the campaign lobbied that the school should not select its pupils on religious grounds, and later sought and got the support of local MP, Vince Cable and also the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, that the proposed school should instead only select half its pupils with recourse to religion.

This suggestion was rejected however, despite RISC and its lawyers claiming that Section 6A of the recently introduced Education Act 2011 requires any local authority inEnglandwhich believes there is a need for a new local school to first invite bids for an Academy school. Under current Government policy, all new Academy faith schools that open and which do not replace a pre-existing state funded faith school, are limited in selecting pupils on religious grounds to half of their places. The campaign is going to court with the British Humanist Association to close what they see as a loop-hole to subvert this 50% rule.

In granting permission for a Judicial Review of Richmond Council’s decision to open a Voluntary Aided faith school, Judge Ockleton of the High Court decided that “Despite what the defendant [the Council] says it seems to me that it is arguable that the consultation [to open the voluntary aided school] was based on a decision that provision was necessary … If that is right, section 6A was engaged … [and] if section 6A applied, or if the consultation mis-stated the Council’s position, [then the] decision was arguably unlawful.”

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, said ‘The introduction in 2010 by Government of the 50% rule has been a very significant development in recent faith school policy. It highlights how religious discrimination in pupil admissions is being increasingly viewed as outmoded, and how it is not required to ensure that faith schools maintain their ethos.

‘This legal case could therefore have very important consequences for the opening of new state funded faith schools in England, and in turn, on their ability to discriminate against children on the grounds of religion.  Accord will therefore follow the outcome of the Judicial Review very closely.”

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