Popular C of E school scraps discriminatory admissions to better serve local community

May 1, 2015

crayon-photoGovernors at St Luke’s Church of England Primary School in Kingston, South West London, have decided to adopt a non-religiously selective pupil admissions policy to prevent misuse associated with its religious criteria and to better serve local families. Accord has welcomed the news and praised the school’s leadership.

The change was urged  by one of its Governors and local parish vicar, Friar Martin Hislop, who had identified that following the awarding of a school place most families that attended his church soon stopped altogether. The school has proved so popular that, in recent years, almost all of the children admitted gained entry on the grounds of church attendance. Speaking  to Radio 4’s Today programme this week, Friar Hislop explained the school’s move:

“Primarily it was because of a desire for us to return to the core mission of the church, which is to serve its local community … we rarely applied distance as a criteria for anyone, so people living in council flats immediately next to my school rarely found a place at the school. But yes, we kept a register over four years, and I regret to say that the evidence is clearly there that, over time at least four fifths of those who signed the register and attended worship twice a month for a year, stopped within a month of submitting their admission form … in the school itself, my head teacher reports that less than 10% of families regularly worship at any church …  the Church of England exists to be open and serve its community, and therefore the ethos of the school, promotes inclusiveness, it seeks to promote respect and cultural diversity.”

Last month 20 members of the Church of England, including clergy and active lay persons, issued an open letter urging that the Church change its pupil admissions guidance so that all its schools move towards operating non-religiously selective admission arrangements. The letter highlighted that religiously selective policies placed the Church in a conflicted position, by inflating Church attendance figures and skewing Church School intakes towards the children of more affluent, so boosting the schools’ results. The signatories argued this was at odds with the Church’s mission to wider society.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘Religious selection in pupil admissions is open to misuse and is socio-economically exclusive. The leadership shown at St Luke’s School – based on evidence and inclusive values – should serve as an example to others. The school shows faith schools can advance their ethos by choosing not to religiously discriminate, but that way can also advance it more effectively.’



Misuse of religiously selective policies

The Sutton Trust’s December 2013 survey looked at strategies that parents used to try and get their child into a better school. When it is considered how few pupil places the 6% of parents that engage in inauthentic church worship are chasing, the survey suggests widespread abuse in admissions to popular schools that reward church attendance. Although a third of state funded schools in England are faith schools, they only provide a quarter of the pupil places and many faith schools do not reward Church worship. This is because they operate open admissions, or are not oversubscribed (so must admit all children that wish to attend), or because they reward other religious activities. For example, 40% of places in England’s state funded faith sector are at Roman Catholic schools and most such schools instead show preference to those on the basis of baptism.

Worrying evidence has emerged that suggests baptism could also be being misused. The Pastoral Research Centre released data in Jan 2014 showing that while the number of baptisms of children under the age of one in England and Wales was in long term decline, the number of baptisms of those aged over one had risen dramatically over the previous decade. The change is consistent with parents having children baptised as their child nears school age, as part of a strategy to increase their chance of being admitted to a popular Catholic school.

Socio-economic selection due to religious selection

It has long been established that the faith sector admits children from more affluent backgrounds. However, an exhaustive December 2013 study by the Fair Admissions Campaign showed a correlation between religious and socio-economic selection. It found that comprehensive secondary schools in England with no religious character admitted 5% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected if they admitted those children living nearest to them. Comprehensive Church of England secondaries were found to admit 15% fewer, but a sharp difference was found between those that do and do not select by faith. Those that had a fully selective oversubscription policy admitted 35% fewer, whereas those that did not only admitted 1% fewer than would be expected. Eligibility for free school meals is a key government measure of deprivation.

Most Church Schools were set up to educate the disadvantaged

Serving the better-heeled in their communities is a distortion to the original mission of most Church schools. The National Society, which created most Anglican schools, was established to provide schools for children from poor families. Similarly the precursor to the Catholic Education Service of England and Wales was named the ‘Catholic Poor School Committee’.

One Response to Popular C of E school scraps discriminatory admissions to better serve local community

  1. A Wood on May 5, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    What this and countless other articles about this subject fails to mention is that by removing a very fair and free form of selection policy in that anyone can attend the church if they wish to secure good education for their children. By removing this criteria and basing the selection on distance only the wealthy will benefit as house prices within the catchment area go up and move beyond the reach of most committed families. What’s more, Father Martin Hislop has failed to ask the question “why are these families not staying on at his church”. Could it be that his strong anti-women bishops views and his generally unwelcome manner don’t sit with the majority of his potential congregation. Other C of E churches in the borough don’t seem to have an attendance problem.

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