Religious discrimination in school admissions is ‘reinforcing ethnic concentrations’ and increasing ‘the degree of segregation’ in schools, a major review commissioned by the Home Office has found.
The review, which was conducted by Dame Louise Casey over the course of 2015 and 2016, examines a range of issues related to opportunity and integration in the UK, including immigration, the place of religion in society, the impact of the media on public attitudes, and the role of schools in contributing to social cohesion. Placing particular emphasis on the importance of social mixing in schools, which the British Humanist Association (BHA) raised in its response to the call for evidence, the report states:
‘When children being educated in segregated schools are also growing up in an area where all of their neighbours are from the same ethnic and/or faith background, it vastly reduces opportunities for them to mix with others from different backgrounds. It deprives them of the benefits – individually and to society as a whole – that are known to derive from mixing with people from different backgrounds.’
The review found that ‘some children’s experience of school [is] marked by segregation from wider British communities’, concluding that ‘where faith schools are over-subscribed [and therefore are able to religiously select pupils]… admission policies do seem to play a role in reinforcing ethnic concentration’. In one of its 12 recommendations, the report calls on Government to ‘work with schools providers and local communities… to ensure that children from different communities learn alongside those from different background’.
Despite numerous references to the need for ‘more social mixing, particularly among young people’, the report however fails to recommend that the Government drop its plans to remove the existing 50% cap on religious selection at free schools. Recent evidence published by a variety of groups has debunked Government claims that the cap has been largely ineffective at boosting integration, instead demonstrating that the cap has been hugely successful in promoting integration in the vast majority of religious free schools. Disappointingly, the review simply ignores this evidence and uncritically accepts the Government line and the misleading position taken by the Catholic Education Service. This contradicts comments by Dame Louise herself in the buildup to publication, raising questions about the independence of this aspect of the review.
Beyond the findings on segregation in the mainstream education system, the report also points to concerns frequently raised by the BHA ‘about the well-being of children in segregated, supplementary and unregistered, illegal faith schools’. Criticising the ‘lax regulation’ in this area, the review finds that ‘it is too easy for children to be raised in a totally secluded environment that does not provide a suitable education or sufficient protection from harm’. The report therefore recommends that ‘All children outside mainstream education [including those in home education] should be required to register with local authorities and local authorities duties’ to know where children are being educated should be increased’.
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘This review is very clear in highlighting the growing problem of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation in both the education system and society more widely. As is rightly pointed out, the religious discrimination employed by “faith” schools in their admission policies is only exacerbating this, but it is disappointing that the report lacks the courage to explicitly call the Government out for its incredibly divisive policies in this regard. We will continue to campaign for an end to these practices and will certainly build on the the many positive remarks and recommendations that the report makes in our conversations with the Government.’
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Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘New evidence shows Government proposal to allow 100% religious selection in schools will lead to increased segregation’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/09/30/new-evidence-shows-government-proposal-to-allow-100-religious-selection-in-schools-will-lead-to-increased-segregation/
See the BHA’s previous news item ‘Government published plans to allow full religious discrimination in school admissions’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/09/13/government-publishes-plans-to-allow-full-religious-discrimination-in-school-admissions/
Read the BHA’s news item ‘Exposed: Catholic hypocrisy in calls for end to restrictions on religious selection in schools’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/09/09/exposed-catholic-hypocrisy-in-calls-for-end-to-restrictions-on-religious-selection-in-schools/
Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/
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.