Church of England urged to transform its attitude to discrimination

April 22, 2021

The Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education has welcomed the Final Report of the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce, but urged the Church of England to evidence its commitment to racial justice by also leading its schools away from operating religiously discriminatory practices that indirectly discriminate on the grounds of race.

The Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce was set up last year to commend changes to ensure greater racial equality in the Church of England. Its Final Report, published today, makes a wide range of recommendations. They include calls for Church of England schools to teach about racial justice and for the monitoring and promotion of racial diversity amongst teaching staff. The report however stops short of recommending schools do not operate religiously selective admission arrangements that indirectly discriminate against children on the grounds of race.

Last autumn the Accord Coalition responded to an open invitation from the Taskforce for consultation submissions. Accord’s response highlighted how religious selection of pupils by some Church of England Schools is dividing and privileging families on the grounds of race, with children of South Asian heritage at particular risk of being disenfranchised. Attempts over the last five years to have Church authorities acknowledge and tackle this problem have fallen on deaf ears.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Revd Stephen Terry, said ‘Today’s report provides an excellent opportunity for the Church to address discrimination on the grounds of race, which should be embraced. Tackling discrimination of any kind should be an integral and sustained part of the work of the Church, and it is to be hoped that real and substantial change in its practices will now at last take place.’

‘In particular, the Anti-Racism Taskforce is to be congratulated for stating clearly that Church of England schools have an important role to play in promoting racial justice. Its schools are nowadays the main way in which many have contact with the Church, so how the schools operate can have an enormous impact on the opportunities and attitude of others.’

‘Consequently, the Church should actively promote the removal of religiously discriminatory pupil admission and teacher employment policies, by establishing these aims amongst its key objectives. Current policies directly discriminate against people on the grounds of faith, and are increasingly indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of race. It is regrettable that, although the Taskforce advocates some very important measures, it has neither called out nor urged an end to these practices. To do so would surely make explicit a firm and profound commitment to rooting out discrimination at all levels within the Church.’

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.

Research conducted in 2016 by Accord member group, Humanists UK, found that at Church of England schools which permitted all of their places to be awarded on faith grounds, only 6% of pupils were recorded as having an Asian ethnicity. This compared to 15% at Church of England Free Schools. Free Schools are not permitted to select more than half of their pupils by faith.

A November 2016 Populus opinion poll commissioned by Accord found that state funded schools selecting pupils by faith was opposed by people in Britain by a ratio of almost five to one. A large majority of adherents of all major world faiths and each of England and Wales’ largest Christian denominations were similarly all found to oppose this faith discrimination.

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