Church of England anti-racism body warned that religious selection of pupils can be racially discriminatory

November 26, 2020

The Church of England’s new Anti-Racism Taskforce has been advised that religious selection of pupils by some Church Schools is dividing and privileging families on the grounds of race. The matter has been brought to the Taskforce’s attention this week through a submission from the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education. Accord’s submission further asks the Taskforce to draw attention to the issue, to help ensure Church authorities tackle it to better advance racial equality.

The Taskforce was launched in October to make recommendations about how the Church can improve its record on racial justice and equality, and to propose the remit and membership of an Archbishops’ Commission into racism that is to begin in the spring of 2021. Earlier this month the Taskforce invited opinions on how the Church of England could promote greater racial justice.

The Accord Coalition’s consultation response emphasises how religious selection of pupils can serve as a proxy for race and highlights examples of religiously selective admission policies that are indirectly racially discriminatory through a case study of three popular Church of England secondary schools. The submission warns that the problem is however a much wider one “… and is likely to occur wherever a popular religiously selective school is located in an area where selection by religion serves as a proxy for selection by race.” It also concludes that children of South Asian heritage are at particular risk of being disenfranchised.

The Accord Coalition’s submission observes how the indirect racial discrimination leads to marginalised families accessing poorer performing schools and thus inhibits the life chances of their children. It warns that selecting and thus segregating children into different schools on the grounds of both religion and race is worse for community cohesion. It further questions the suitability of denying school places to families of minority faith backgrounds when, despite adhering to a different faith, they often appreciate the religious ethos of Church Schools.

The Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Revd Stephen Terry, said ‘Church Schools do not seek to racially discriminate via their admissions policy, but the reality is that the policy of some schools is indirectly racially discriminatory. There is little awareness of this problem and, unless the issue is recognised and addressed, it will only worsen due to the changing demography of English society.’

‘We urge the Church to acknowledge this subject and set out a pathway by which remedial action can be taken. The issue is not confined to Church of England schools, but the Church is the largest single provider of schools in the country. Were it to display leadership in tackling the problem then it would be an innovative and practical demonstration of its commitment to tackling racial inequality.’
Indirect discrimination by race occurs when a policy or practice applies to everyone in the same way but has a worse effect on one or more racial groups than on others.

The problem of religious selection by faith schools indirectly leading to racial selection was explored by Accord’s pioneering December 2015 report ‘Racial discrimination by religiously selective faith schools: a worsening problem‘. It concluded that selection of pupils by faith was leading to selection by race in many ethnically mixed areas of Britain.

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