Government commissioned report warns that faith selection at state schools may not be fulfilling “social contract”

January 24, 2013

crayon-rainbowAn independent review commissioned by the Government to investigate choice in public services has warned that selective schools, including selective faith schools, may be failing in their duty to their local neighbourhoods. The report, published today, was conducted by the economist and author David Boyle, who was tasked by the Minister for Government Policy, the Rt Hon Oliver Letwin, and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Rt Hon Danny Alexander, with looking in particular at barriers to choice in public services for those from disadvantaged backgrounds in England.

Writing on the topic of selective schools, the report noted:

State-funded schools which do not adopt some responsibility for the wider well-being of their neighbourhood may not be fulfilling the social contract that people might reasonably expect of them. This is complicated by the debate about faith schools. These play an important role providing a faith alternative way of providing education for their own adherents. But the original purpose of faith schools was also to fulfil the demands of their faith by providing for the local neighbourhood, and this objective may have become too secondary.” (P60-61)

Research from the Guardian in March 2012 showed that most faith schools in England admitted a smaller proportion of children in receipt of free schools meals (a Government indicator of deprivation) than lived in their respective local area. Meanwhile, a ComRes poll in November 2012, commissioned by the Accord Coalition, revealed that nearly three-quarters of the British public were opposed to faith selection in pupil admissions at state funded schools.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, said ‘Not only do selective faith schools divide children on religious grounds, which can act as a proxy for division on racial and ethnic grounds too, but they are increasingly also serving the more affluent in society.

‘Accord compliments the report for acknowledging awkward truths around the admission arrangements at a great deal of state funded faith schools. The arrangements appear inequitable to many in society, and appear to be working against the schools and the school’s religious sponsors own stated commitments to inclusivity, charity and fairness.

‘Accord calls upon all bodies that sponsor faith schools to end their silence, and discuss openly and honestly about the principle of faith discrimination in admissions, and its effect upon society. Religion and discrimination are uncomfortable bed-fellows, and it is time faith schools and their sponsors faced up to this.

‘The Accord Coalition also urges the government to re-instate the duty of Ofsted to inspect how schools’ promote community cohesion, which was dropped in 2011, but urgently needs to be restored.’



The report The Barriers to Choice Review: How are people using choice in public services? can found here.

The full survey results and field work data of Accord Coalition’s ComRes opinion poll on religious selection in admission can be found here. 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 Guardian’s lead article on its research investigating whether faith schools admitted a greater proportion of children from affluent backgrounds than live in their local area can be read here. An interactive map produced by the paper showing the proportion of pupils in receipt of free school meals in England’s faith schools, as well as links to the primary data that the paper used for its research can be found here.

The report Praying for success? Faith schools and school choice in East London, by Tim Butler and Chris Hamnett, was released in April 2012, and can be found here. 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.

Chief Schools Adjudicator, Dr Ian Craig, found in his 2010 Annual Report that religious admissions criteria at some faith schools indirectly helped pupils from particular backgrounds over others. In an interview upon the release of his report Dr Craig observed that:

“… generally, you might have in a middle class area a lot of women who aren’t going to work who might be able to go in and clean the church. It may well be in a more working class area there isn’t that ability. We’ve come across some issues where that sort of thing, we feel, benefits the white middle class area and doesn’t necessarily benefit some of the immigrant children that might live in the community … I don’t generally think we’ve come across schools that have done that to skew their intake specifically, but our view is it has been skewing the intake

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