A new opinion poll has revealed that hard-line religious leaders are at odds with their co-religionists and the Government is at odds with voters over the issue of religious discrimination by faith schools.
The survey – commissioned by the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education and its member group, the British Humanist Association – finds that 72.2% of the public agree 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’. 14.8% of respondents disagreed, meaning faith discrimination was opposed by a ratio of almost five to one. A large majority of adherents of all major world faiths and England and Wales’ largest Christian denominations were all found to oppose faith discrimination.
Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘The poll highlights how religious discrimination is out of step with mainstream values in modern Britain. Schools are one of the very worst places where it should be tolerated. They are the state funded institutions that should be doing most to prepare people for life in a diverse society, not segregating and discriminating against children on the grounds of faith.’
The poll highlights a large disconnect between the values of many political and hard-line religious leaders, with those of wider society. Last month Theresa May announced the UK Government’s intention to scrap the 50% faith selection cap at Free Schools. Among the justifications given were the Prime Minister’s belief that it was ‘wrong’ for families that share a school’s faith to lose out on a school place to children from families with different beliefs. The Catholic Church is currently boycotting the Free Schools programme because it does not want its schools to be inhibited in the extent to which they can religiously prioritise pupils. The Church of England supports other faith school sponsors being able to open state funded schools that are fully religiously selective.
72% 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’. 15% of respondents disagreed. Almost half (47%) recorded that they agreed ‘strongly’, compared to 6% who disagreed ‘strongly’. The results by respondents religious affiliation are set out in the table below.
Populus interviewed 2,054 people living in Britain between October 14th and 16th. Data was weighted to be demographically representative of all British adults aged 18+. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. The full survey results and field work data can be found here.
|Q. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? ‘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.’|
|Religious affiliation||Net agree||Net disagree||Don’t know|
Weakness of Government arguments for removing faith Free School selection cap
The other two main arguments put forward by the Prime Minster last month for scrapping the 50% religious selection cap at faith Free Schools have also been challenged.
1. The Prime Minister argued that the cap should be removed because Catholic Church rules prevent the Church from opening Free Schools. National Sociology of Religion expert, Professor Linda Woodhead, argued last month however that ‘there is in fact no such canon [law]’ that demands this and criticised the Government for accepting at face value this argument by the Catholic Education Service and for ignoring inclusive religious voices.
Two Catholic Free Schools have been set up since the Free Schools programme began in 2010. Most fee paying Catholic schools in England do not operate religiously selective admission arrangements.
2. The Prime Minister argued that the religious discrimination cap was ‘failing in its objective to promote integration.’ It is true – as the Prime Minster noted – many faith Free Schools admit a highly homogenous intake but, as research provided by Accord Coalition member group the British Humanist Association (BHA) revealed last month, allowing Free Schools to choose all pupils on religious grounds will lead to increased ethnic and religious segregation across England. The BHA noted:
‘100% religiously selective Christian schools are less diverse and admit a far higher proportion of children classified as ‘of white origin’ than schools which operate under the 50% cap on religious selection or do not select on religious grounds at all.’
99% of the state funded faith schools in England and Wales are Christian, with 99% of these sponsored by the Church of England/ Church in Wales, Catholic Church or Methodist Church.