Church of England education division lacking in compassion towards the poor

December 6, 2013

Only three weeks ago the Archbishop of Canterbury praised Church schools that were becoming more inclusive. But the Church of England’s uncompassionate and uncompromising response to new research showing the extent to which its religiously selective schools are skewed towards serving the affluent, rather than the poor and vulnerable, highlights the gulf between his aspirations and the current reality. The Church was responding to research published on Tuesday by the Fair Admissions Campaign, which shows that Church secondaries typically admit 10% fewer pupils than their areas, and accused the Campaign of ‘wilful misrepresentation’.

The new research and map looked at all secondary schools in England and is based on statistics from the Department for Education. If found that socio-economic segregation was most pronounced at those Church of England schools that permit all their places to be allotted on faith grounds. This group of schools admitted 31% fewer children entitled to free school meals (a government indicator of deprivation) than would be expected if they admitted children living in their respective local community. In contrast, Church of England schools whose admissions criteria do not allow selection by faith were found to admit 4% more children entitled to free schools meals than would be expected. These findings are particularly problematic given that most Church schools were set up with a mission to provide education for the poorest.

Speaking in today’s Church Times however the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, The Reverend Jan Ainsworth, dismissed the new findings as ‘wilful misrepresentation… We do not recognise the picture of church schools the survey paints. We are proud of the way in which our schools enable children from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed.’

The Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘It is extremely sad that instead of serving the poor and vulnerable, the latest research shows that religiously selective schools are actually skewed towards championing the affluent. It is therefore astonishing that rather than acknowledging the seriousness of this issue, some Church officials are responding with spin and denial.’



The Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledged the success of Church of England schools that do not select pupils by faith in an interview with The Times last month. The Most Rev Justin Welby said:

‘What you are seeing in the Church schools is a deeper and deeper commitment to the common good. There’s a steady move away from faith-based entry tests … It is not necessary to select to get a really good school. There are unbelievably brilliant schools that are entirely open to all applicants without selection criteria apart from residence, where you live, and which produce staggeringly good results. It’s a question of – and you can point to them all over the place – it’s a question of outstanding leadership.’

However, Lambeth Palace subsequently rebutted the story, putting out a statement quoting the Archbishop as saying that ‘I fully support the current policy for schools to set their own admissions criteria, including the criterion of faith. Nothing in my wider comments to The Times on this subject should be seen as dissenting from this policy.’

The Church Times article also reports that ‘The survey has also angered the heads of church schools in challenging areas. David Ainsworth, the head of Trinity Church of England High School, Manchester, listed by the Fair Admission Campaign’s research as one of the worst offenders because 100 per cent of its places are offered on faith grounds, said: “We don’t demand that our pupils are Christians – just that they have a faith.” Comments in the most recent OFSTED report confirms… The school also has a higher-than-average percentage of children eligible for free school meals’. In fact while 24% of pupils at the school are eligible for free school meals – above the national average – locally 46% of children are eligible for free school meals, much higher than at the school.

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