Government tries to brush over inequality caused by faith school discrimination

December 22, 2018

The Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education has criticized the Government for the partiality of its equality impact assessment released this week, and its consequent decision to go ahead with financial support for the creation of new voluntary aided faith schools. The assessment follows an announcement in May this year, when the Government decided to row back on a decade of national policy that sought to ensure new faith schools were less religiously selective.

Instead, it announced funding for the opening of new voluntary aided schools that can operate a 100% religiously selective admissions policy, increasing discrimination and segregation in the education system. This week’s impact assessment downplays the disadvantage and division new discriminatory schools are likely to cause.

Commenting on the announcement, Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Revd Stephen Terry, said ‘New discriminatory and segregationist faith schools undermine equality of opportunity and community cohesion. It is hard to see how the Government could have responded differently and not admitted to the harm its policy will cause. It is however disappointing to see it display such bias and contempt for the promotion of cohesion and equality, in order to try and retrospectively justify its damaging course of action.’

‘Opening more discriminatory schools is an historic error. The impact assessment stands as a record of the extent to which the current Government is trying to turn a blind eye to the consequences of its policy.’

The impact assessment:

  • fails to address in any meaningful way the impact of more religiously segregated schools upon community cohesion, despite school segregation being frequently cited as a major threat to integration (including by the Government’s current integration Green Paper p11)
  • downplays the extent to which pupils with special educational needs are underrepresented in the faith school sector by comparing the inclusivity of voluntary aided faith schools on this measure with that of all state funded schools as a whole, rather than versus non-voluntary aided schools (p9)
  • argues the impact from opening these new schools that will be able to religiously discriminate in the employment of all their teachers should be considered in the case of each individual school, rather than overall (p12)
  • fails to acknowledge the evidence that the stronger exam performance of religiously selective schools is shown to be due to cream skimming and instead concludes opening more voluntary aided schools will ‘simply’ increase the number of high performing schools overall (p14). By doing this, the Government has turned a blind eye to greater socio-economic division and inequality its decision can be expected to cause
  • treats people with an Asian ethnicity (60% of the World population) as all having the same ethnicity, so disguising the indirect racial discrimination particularly experienced by people of South Asian heritage from religiously selective Christian schools (p17)

In another apparent indication of disregard for the public sector equality duty, the Government’s impact assessment has been produced many months after its voluntary aided faith school policy was announced. Equality impact assessments are designed to help government ensure their policies or projects meet their equality duties and, as such, are usually carried out before a policy is decided, not after.



Overview of central Government’s recent approach to religious selection at new faith schools
Most faith schools approved by the Labour Government during Ed Ball’s tenure as Education Secretary (June 2007 to May 2010) were subject to a 50% religious selection in admissions cap. In 2010 the Coalition Government launched the free schools programme and stipulated that faith free schools would not be allowed to religiously select more than half their pupils. The 2011 Education Act amended procedures for the opening of new state funded schools and introduced a legal presumption that entirely new state funded schools in England should be free schools.

In the summer of 2015 the Conservative Government announced it would continue with the 50% faith free school discrimination cap ‘… as an important way of supporting these schools to be inclusive and to meet the needs of a broad mix of families.’ In May 2017 the Conservative Party manifesto committed a Conservative Government to scrapping the 50% policy. However, this May the Government announced it would keep its 50% cap and instead provide funding to support the opening of new local authority maintained voluntary aided faith schools, inferring how it would lead to more Catholic schools. This type of faith school can operate a fully religiously selective over-subscription policy.

The Catholic Church of England and Wales has opted not to open Catholic free schools, which is a self-imposed boycott designed to undermine the 50% cap. This is even though state funded Catholic schools in most other developed countries do not select pupils by faith, nor do most private Catholic schools in England.

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