Accord urges Church School reform as Education Secretary affirms continuing partnership with Church of England

July 3, 2013

The Secretary of State for Education, The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, has offered praise of existing Church Schools and urged that the Church of England opens new schools at a seminar at Lambeth Palace today, hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby. In a statement released in advance of the seminar, Michael Gove said:

‘We would not have so many great state schools in this country without the Church of England. I know the Church does a wonderful job helping to raise educational standards and in providing a safe and loving environment for hundreds of thousands of children. However, there is much more we can do together. I want the Church to recover the spirit which infused its educational mission in Victorian times and support more new schools – especially academies and free schools – to bring educational excellence to the nation’s poorest children.’

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, said ‘Despite the positive aspects of Church Schools, those that select pupils on the basis of their faith are not only guilty of discrimination, but also help to fragment society. A tolerant pluralist society can only be created by having tolerant pluralist schools where children of all backgrounds grow up and inter-act together.

‘In the Victorian era state funded faith schools could not select pupils on the grounds of children’s religious observance or beliefs, while in 2013 they can. Meanwhile, most Church Schools set up in the nineteenth century sought to provide education for children from poor families, while today the better Church Schools are skewed, through their religiously selective admission policies, towards serving the better healed.

‘If Michael Goves really wants Church Schools to recover the spirit which infused the Churches educational mission in Victorian times then he must make sure that Church Schools are not permitted to segregate and divide, but are made open and suitable for all in their respective local communities.’



Research from the Guardian in March 2012 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 in particular were increasingly serving the more affluent.

The Elementary Education Act 1870 established state schools in England and Wales for the first time. It prevented the newly state funded schools from selecting pupils on the grounds of children’s religious observance or belief, while the Universities Tests Act 1871 brought to an end religious selection in admissions at Universities in the UK. Previously place of study at the (at that time) privately funded Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham could be restricted to Anglicans. However, over 140 years later not only have these rights applied to admissions in Higher Education not been extended to state funded schools, but schools in the state funded sector can now discriminate against children because of their beliefs and practices. Not only was religious discrimination out of keeping with mainstream values of the Victorian era, but protections offered in the 1870s have regressed.

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