Faith schools dividing families, as well as communities

May 10, 2013

Inclusive-schools-logo-version-3-300x202The Accord Coalition has called upon the Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster to reconsider its guidance to schools about pupil admissions, after non-Catholic parents of pupils at Sacred Heart Primary School in Teddington, South West London, were recently notified by letter that their younger children may not be accepted in future.

The school is required to follow guidance from its local Archbishop, which mandates it to give priority to children from Catholic families when it is over-subscribed. An extract from the letter to affected parents read: “[Our] Trust Deed requires us to prioritise Catholics, and … as a school we cannot deviate from the Trust Deed…. [The Diocese lawyer] advised us that other schools had faced our predicament and consequently also sought advice from the Diocese, whereupon the issue had been referred to the (then) Director of Education for Westminster, Paul Barber. He confirmed that, given the terms of the Trust Deed, there was no scope for change.”

The case echoes that of Kentish Town Church of England Primary School in the London Borough of Camden, where nine children with an older sibling at the school have been denied a place this coming September, after a surge of applications were received from children who had attended a local Church. Under the school’s current arrangements children who attend Sunday Mass at the nearby St Benet’s & St Silas Church twelve or more times in the preceding year are prioritised over children with a brother or sister at the school. Earlier this month the school decided to change its admissions policy from September 2014 onwards, so that children who already had a sibling at the school were prioritised ahead of children admitted on faith grounds.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, said ‘Having religious selection at schools within the state system causes a wide range of problems, and these are not just realised at a community level, such as through the negative effects for social cohesion by segregating children, but they also directly impact upon numerous families throughout the county, as these two cases in London highlight.’

‘School’s conduct should be exemplary, and no state funded schools should be discriminating on the grounds of religion. The blinkered pursuit by religiously selective schools to serve their own, rather than the wider community, and in this case, the families of children at the school, brings into question whether they are fulfilling the social contract that people might reasonably expect of them.

‘A humane, and also a religious response would be to find room for siblings of existing children and not to use religious discrimination to split families. That does not sit well with the values of most faiths.

‘Although nine children with a sibling at Kentish Town Church of England Primary have lost out this year, and although the school will continue to privilege children on faith grounds in its admission policy, the recent change to its policy is to be welcomed as a step in the right direction, and Accord urges the Archdiocese of Westminster to critically engage with the issues that Kentish Town Church of England School has done.’



Sacred Heart Primary School’s case was highlighted this week by the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, a local group endorsed by the Accord Coalition, which campaigns against religious discrimination in pupil admissions at state funded schools in the London Borough of Richmond.

Guidance for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Westminster, including about their approach to pupil admissions, is contained in the document ‘The Trust Deed for Catholic Schools and Colleges in the Archdiocese of Westminster’.

One Response to Faith schools dividing families, as well as communities

  1. Helen on June 25, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    We are in this exact predicament. Our child got a place in our local school (a church school) after a change in their criteria ruled out any children who had only been attending church for 1 year prior to school admissions – we applied under the local area criteria. But as they do not prioritize siblings of non-church attenders (siblings of church attenders are top of the criteria) and the area has too few places for the number of children, our youngest son will not get in. And unfortunately we live between 2 church schools and out of the catchment area of any other schools in our area so have absolutely no options about which school we ‘choose’ it was take it or leave it. It’s not so christian in my opinion to divide families this way – it’s hard enough keeping families together in this day and age as it is without the church lending a helping blow to us. I am disgusted that the LEA don’t get their act in gear to provide enough local school places for the number of children (it is not that we have narrow parameters, we applied to all 5 of our local schools).
    Generally this type of discrimination on religious ground belongs in the dark ages with all other forms of discrimination. How the faith schools that apply this divisive criteria can justify their actions is beyond me. The government need to act to stop particular areas of the country becoming cleansed of the ‘wrong’ religions or no religion in areas where there are only faith schools available.

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