Nearly three-quarters of the British public (73%) agree that ‘state funded schools, including state funded faith schools, should not be allowed to select or discriminate against prospective pupils on religious grounds in their admissions policy’.
The new ComRes poll was commissioned by the Accord Coalition, which campaigns against religious discrimination and indoctrination in schools. A third of state funded schools in England and Wales are faith schools, and they are all permitted to operate an admissions policy that discriminates against children for religious reasons, although such practices are contested.
Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, said ‘We call on the Government to end a right to religious discrimination in schools. Not only does selecting pupils on religious grounds contribute to greater segregation in the school system, and thereby risk undermining community cohesion, but it also goes against widely held understandings of fairness in society, as shown by the survey.
‘Rather than helping to segregate, all state funded faith schools should open their doors to the fresh air of inter-cultural mixing and understanding. They should not look to serve themselves, but be part of their wider community, and to achieve this the legal exemptions from equality law that allow faith schools to discriminate in their admissions policy must be closed by Parliament.
‘If this issue is not tackled then it will only become an even more vexatious and controversial issue, as more schools are being opened that are allowed to discriminate in this way, and as competition between families for places at better performing schools intensifies. Only next week a local campaign group from South West London will be taking their local authority to the High Court to prevent a proposed new school from opening that will be able to select all of their pupils on religious grounds, rather than only half.’
Last year, the Bishop of Oxford, The Rt Revd John Pritchard, who is the Church of England’s episcopal spokesperson on education in the House of Lords, suggested that Anglican schools should only admit 10% of their pupils with recourse to religion. However, he was shouted down by some within the Church, even though religious selection in admissions is out of step with public feeling, as demonstrated by the new poll.
While 73% of respondents agreed that ‘state funded schools, including state funded faith schools, should not be allowed to select or discriminate against prospective pupils on religious grounds in their admissions policy’, half (50%) stated that they agreed “strongly”. Only 18% of respondents disagreed.
ComRes interviewed 2,008 adults online between 2nd and 4th November 2012. Data was weighted to be demographically representative of all British adults aged 18+. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. The full survey results and field work data can be found here.
The Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign is taking Richmond Borough Council to the High Court next Thursday (November 15th), which they accuse of trying to circumnavigate central Government policy that requires all new faith schools to be limited in selecting no more than half their pupils on religious grounds. They are joined in their case by the British Humanist Association, who outline the legal challenge at http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/1122.
Research from the Guardian, revealed on March 5th this year, showed that most faith schools admit fewer than the national average of pupils in receipt of free schools meals (used by government as a fair measure of deprivation) than the average for schools in their respective local authority area, and a smaller proportion of such pupils than are present in area covered by the first three digits of the school’s respective postcode. Worryingly the research indicated that Church of England schools were increasingly serving the better-heeled in their communities.
The report Praying for success? Faith schools and school choice in East London, by Tim Butler and Chris Hamnett, was released in April 2012. It found that “… perceptions of good behaviour standards, the reproduction of social privilege and educational attainment rather than religious faith have become their [faith schools] main attraction” P2. However, the authors noted that faith schools “… offer for parents who live out of the catchment [area] of a preferred non-selective school a way of avoiding being allocated to a less popular school. The dilemma is often posed in terms of attainment, standards, values and behaviour but this often came across in our interviews as an elaborate form of code for evading what was perceived as an unacceptable social mix based around the ‘wrong’ combination of class and ethnic background” P11.
Among the key findings of Social Capital, Diversity and Education Policy, by Professor Irene Bruegel of the London South Bank University Families & Social Capital ESRC Research Group (2006) were that “Friendship at primary schools can, and does, cross ethnic and faith divides wherever children have the opportunity to make friends from different backgrounds. At that age, in such schools, children are not highly conscious of racial differences and are largely unaware of the religion of their friends … There was some evidence that parents learned to respect people from other backgrounds as a result of their children’s experiences in mixed schools.” (p2)
Identities in Transition: A Longitudinal Study of Immigrant Children, by Rupert Brown, Adam Rutland & Charles Watters from the Universities of Sussex and Kent (2008) found that “… the effects of school diversity were consistent, most evidently on social relations: higher self-esteem, fewer peer problems and more cross-group friendships. Such findings show that school ethnic composition can significantly affect the promotion of positive intergroup attitudes. These findings speak against policies promoting single faith schools, since such policies are likely to lead to reduced ethnic diversity in schools.”(p9)