Non-religious Academy in Solihull defers to Church in proposing faith-based admissions criteria

Take Action: If you live in Solihull, you can join the local campaign group and sign the petition opposing the plans.

Tudor Grange Academy, a secondary school in Solihull without a religious character, is consulting on changing its admissions criteria to give priority to children attending two religiously selective Church of England primary schools, to the detriment of others who live nearer to the Academy. The British Humanist Association (BHA) wrote to the Executive Principal, Jennifer Bexon-Smith, to question the legality of the proposed changes, and was alarmed to receive a reply on her behalf from the Birmingham Diocesan Director of Education. The BHA has expressed concern at the creeping influence of the Church over Academies without a religious character such as Tudor Grange.

Tudor Grange is a former Community school which converted to being an Academy in 2010. In 2011, the school was approached by the Diocese of Birmingham, who asked them to sponsor a failing Church primary school, now called Tudor Primary Academy, St James, which was being forced by the Government to convert to an Academy. At the time, Mrs Bexon-Smith wrote ‘In order to formalise our association we are seeking to become affiliated to the Diocese of Birmingham and attached is a copy of the affiliation agreement for your information. Please click here to view… I believe that this initiative will further strengthen the ethical and moral education of the students in our care and hope that it will have your support.’ The affiliation agreement included commitments by the school to ‘Seek to celebrate and acknowledge the importance of spirituality and faith to our school life’, and to ‘Acknowledge the affiliation with the Diocesan Board of Education in materials produced and published by the school.’ The change was not consulted on.

Now, Tudor Grange is proposing to give priority in admissions to pupils from St James and another local Church school, St Alphege C of E Junior School, both of which religiously select in admissions. This is justified on the basis of Tudor Grange’s sponsorship of the former and having ‘developed a partnership’ with the latter, despite the fact that they are the fifteenth and fifth nearest primaries, respectively.

Last week the BHA wrote to Mrs Bexon-Smith to outline its concerns that these proposals might constitute discrimination under the Equality Act and were surprised to receive a reply from Jackie Hughes, Diocesan Director of Education. The BHA has also subsequently learned that Mrs Bexon-Smith is also a trustee of the Diocese of Birmingham Educational Trust, whose charitable objects include ‘establishing and maintaining Academies (primarily but not exclusively Church of England Academies) under the direction of the Diocesan Board of Education’, and that ‘the objects are to be conducted in accordance with the principles of the Church of England.’ This potentially represents a conflict of interest, whereby ‘a trustee’s personal interests, or interests that they owe to another body, may (or may appear to) influence or affect the trustee’s decision making.’

BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘We are seriously concerned that a result of these proposed admissions arrangements is that children in Solihull may find themselves discriminated against on the basis of their parents’ religion or belief. As a consequence, we would question the legality of what is being proposed.

‘In addition, we are very concerned that this is indicative of a wider trend of creeping incursions by the Church into Academies which previously did not have a faith ethos in any way, shape or form. We regret that such changes are now possible without any public say required except in the school’s admissions policies, or if the school formally decides to become a Church school.’

A strong local campaign has started against the proposals, with over 500 local people signing a petition against the plans.

Notes

For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at [email protected] or on 0773 843 5059.

Read the BHA’s correspondence with the Academy and Diocese: http://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/BHA-correspondence-with-Tudor-Grange-Academy-Solihull.pdf

Read Tudor Grange’s proposed admissions policy: http://www.tudor-grange.solihull.sch.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=351:proposed-admissions-policy-2014-2015&catid=3:head-lines&Itemid=2

Read Tudor Grange’s affiliation agreement with the Diocese of Birmingham: http://www.tudor-grange.solihull.sch.uk/images/docs/draftjul11.doc

Read the relevant section of the Equality Act 2010: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/85

Visit the local campaign’s Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/groups/150736215077978/

View the petition against the plans: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/tudor-grange-admissions-policy

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

Read the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character: http://www.humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/schools-with-a-religious-character.pdf

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.