Following an objection submitted by the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC), a Jewish state school in north London has been ordered by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator to remove from its admission arrangements the requirement that parents comply with a strict set of rules relating to their sex life. Hasmonean High School in Barnet had been seeking assurances from prospective parents that they adhered to the ‘laws of family purity’, which state that a husband and wife may not engage in sexual relations during the period of her menstruation, and for seven days afterwards. The British Humanist Association (BHA), a founding member of the FAC, has welcomed the adjudicator’s decision.
Assessing whether or not the requirement, which appears as part of the Questionnaire for Rabbis, represented a fair, clear and objective criterion, as is required by the School Admissions Code, the adjudicator stated that ‘some parents applying for places at the school may find it embarrassing or intrusive’. He went on to conclude that it would not be possible for a Rabbi to objectively assess observance of the law, and therefore ordered the school to remove the requirement from its admission arrangements.
Reacting to the decision, a member of the local Jewish community commented, ‘As a prospective parent applying to the school, I was shocked to see that they thought it either appropriate or relevant to ask about adherence to these rules, not simply due to their extremely intimate nature, but also because they don’t affect anyone apart from husband and wife. That of course is not to mention the fact that it would be impossible for the Rabbi to verify it, even if he was minded to. I’m pleased the form will now have to change for future years.’
This is the second year in a row that Hasmonean has been referred to the Adjudicator, and last year it was found to be directly discriminating on the basis of race, and possibly gender, under the Equality Act 2010.
This most recent case is the latest in a long line of examples of religiously selective schools making unreasonable demands as part of their admission arrangements, including prioritising children on the basis of activities such as bell ringing and flower arranging and seeking a commitment from parents that there would be no TV or internet in the home. It also comes just a few weeks after the BHA, together with the FAC, published a report revealing that almost every religiously selective secondary school in England was breaching the School Admissions Code in a variety of ways. This included failing to give the correct priority to children in care, asking for parents’ countries of origin or if English was their second language, and even discriminating on the basis of race and gender.
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘Let us be clear. This is a state funded school making decisions about the admission of children on the basis of whether or not their parents sleep together when their mothers are menstruating. It is completely outrageous. And whilst of course we welcome the fact that the school will no longer be able to do this, what is so astounding about the judgement is that the requirement was only deemed unacceptable because the adjudicator did not see how adherence could be objectively assessed. The problem here clearly lies in the ability of schools to set religious selection criteria in the first place, and as long as the system endures cases like this will continue to come up.’
For further comment or information, please contact Jay Harman on 020 7324 3078 or email@example.com
Read the OSA’s full determination: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/466378/ADA2990_Hasmonean_High_School_Barnet_-_7_October_2015.pdf
Read the school’s admission documents: http://www.hasmonean.co.uk/information/admissions/
Read the BHA’s and FAC’s full report ‘An Unholy Mess: how virtually all religiously selective state schools in England are breaking the law’: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/anunholymess/
The Fair Admissions Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.
Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.
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.