Popular faith schools excluding children most in need

January 16, 2015

The Office of Schools Adjudicator (OSA) – the government funded tribunal service that deals with complaints about school admission arrangements – has highlighted a range of problems within the state funded faith school sector. Issues raised in the Chief Adjudicator’s latest annual report, published today, include around the confusing complexity of arrangements and a failure to adhere to the revised 2012 School Admissions Code. The report also cites ongoing complaints from numerous local Councils regarding the difficulty for looked after children and those with social, medical or physical needs to obtain places at popular faith schools.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said, ‘It is profoundly disappointing that some faith schools use admissions procedures to edit out children they consider undesirable. It begs the question of what sort of religious ethos they really have when their arrangements divide their local community, privilege the children of those willing to play the system years in advance, and exclude those in greatest need?’

Observations about faith schools by the Chief Adjudicator include:

  1. The complexity of some schools’ admission arrangements continues to be a matter of concern … The complex arrangements compared with the clearest have some or all of: numerous oversubscription criteria and sometimes subcategories within them; different categories of places; more than one catchment area; feeder schools; tens of points available and needed to gain priority; banding and therefore tests to be taken; aptitude assessment; and several faith-based oversubscription criteria.
  1. Schools designated as having a religious character may include faith-based oversubscription criteria that can be applied if the school is oversubscribed. The relevant faith body has an important role in ensuring that the guidance it gives about admissions, especially about the oversubscription criteria, takes account of the requirements set out in the Code. There are examples of clear and precise guidance that includes a limited faith requirement and a short, clear specimen supplementary information form. Other examples of guidance have not been amended following the publication of the 2012 Code, and offer supplementary forms of several pages that include matters which do not comply with the Code. There have been many objections and referrals concerning the admission arrangements of faith schools this year. Some cases have been about matters other than the faith-based oversubscription criteria, for example, priority for children attending the school’s nursery; others have been to the faith criteria and whether the practice specified complies with the Code; others have queried exactly what is required to meet the faith-based oversubscription criteria so that a child can gain priority for admission to the school. Some of the schools with a religious character have faith-based oversubscription criteria with faith requirements that are extensive and require a parent to be well organised and study the arrangements carefully, sometimes several years before applying for a place, to ensure that their child will have a realistic chance of gaining a place at the school. The Code at paragraph 1.37 says, “Admission authorities must ensure that parents can easily understand how any faith-based criteria will be reasonably satisfied.” Admission authorities need to look carefully at their faith based oversubscription criteria and ensure they comply with this requirement.
  1. As in previous years a number of local authorities express concern that some schools designated as having a religious character give priority, as permitted by the Code, to looked after, previously looked after and all other children of the faith before looked after and previously looked after children not of the faith. This may result in it being difficult, or even impossible, for a looked after or previously looked after child other than of the faith to be admitted to some popular, high achieving faith schools.
  1. Some local authorities express concern at the lack of or in the level of priority given to children with disabilities in the arrangements of own admission authority schools. In a substantial number of these schools, the priority may be second only to looked after and previously looked after children, whereas many faith schools in particular give priority to all children of the faith before giving priority to other children not of the faith who have social, medical or physical needs. The situation is thus similar to that described above concerning looked after and previously looked after children. If the school is oversubscribed with children of the faith then children with social, medical or physical needs who are not of the faith of that school may not be offered places, irrespective of the suitability of the school for their particular needs.
  1. [With respect to the Fair Access Protocol] a number of local authorities report that not all schools are cooperative and that there is active resistance to the protocol from some. At one end of the spectrum, this resistance may be a relatively mild expression of disquiet when a school feels that, because it is not oversubscribed, it has been approached more frequently than other schools and so admits a high number of children who pose challenges. At the other extreme, there may be a more fundamental unwillingness, for example in a faith school, to admit children not of the faith through the protocol ahead of those of the faith who are on the waiting list.

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