A new Education Policy Institute report published today concludes that lifting the 50% religious selection cap at faith Free Schools will undermine social mobility and not raise educational standards. In a detailed assessment of school standards at state funded schools in England, the report also finds that almost all the difference in attainment between faith and non-faith schools can be explained by the characteristics of the pupils that are admitted.
Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘Opening new faith schools that can religiously select pupils will undermine community cohesion, harm the life chances of children from deprived backgrounds and not raise overall standards. We urge the Government to reconsider its plan to get rid of the current rule that prevents faith Free Schools not selecting more than half of their pupils on religious grounds, and instead move towards a non-discriminatory model, where state funded schools no longer discriminate against children and families by faith.’
The Government has faced a barrage of findings that undermine the key justifications for scrapping the 50% religious selection cap that have been put forward by the Prime Minister and by the Department for Education in its associated Green Paper. In September Accord Coalition member group, the British Humanist Association, revealed findings that getting rid of the 50% cap would lead to increased ethnic and religious segregation across England. The Prime Minister had argued that the 50% discrimination cap was ‘failing in its objective to promote integration.’
Meanwhile, in September national Sociology of Religion expert, Professor Linda Woodhead, criticised Ministers for believing at face value claims by the Catholic Education Service that cannon law prevented the Church from opening schools that were inhibited in the extent to which they can religiously prioritise pupils. Writing for the London School of Economics she noted ‘there is in fact no such canon’ and urged that ‘more critical discernment is urgently needed’ by government. An Accord commissioned opinion poll last month found 63% of British Catholics did not support state funded schools selecting pupils by faith.
The latest findings by the Education Policy Institute now undermine Department for Education claims that its proposal to remove the 50% cap will help towards improving social mobility and raising overall standards. Earlier this month a group of figures from across British civic life had published in The Times an Accord supported open letter urging that the cap be kept in place. Signatories included five theologians and a further sixteen clergy members; three national teacher trade union General Secretaries; the Chief Executives of two education and three community cohesion charities; along with Parliamentarians from across the party political spectrum.
The Education Policy Institute reports ‘Faith Schools, Pupil Performance and Social Selection’ can be found at http://epi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Pupil_characteristics_and_performance_at_faith_schools.pdf.