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Parliamentary Humanist Group hears evidence on ‘unthinkable’ faith school admissions proposals

From left to right: Jon Andrews, Pavan Dhaliwal, Baroness Massey, and Alison Ryan

The move to increase the extent of religious discrimination in English school admissions represents an ‘unprecedented threat to integration in this country’, a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group has heard.

The event was held in the wake of the Government’s announcement last year that it proposes to drop the current 50% cap on religious selection at free schools, which requires new and existing religious free schools to keep at least half of their places open to local children irrespective of religion or belief. Chairing the meeting, APPHG Secretary and Labour peer Baroness Massey described the move to drop the cap as ‘outrageous’ and ‘discriminatory’.

Speaking on the panel, Senior Policy Advisor at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), Alison Ryan, drew on her experience as a former pupil at one of the few interdenominational schools in Ireland. Alison quoted the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent assertion that ‘church schools must be places of welcome for all, not cosy clubs’, and claimed that ‘if we let this legislation go through it will be about “cosy clubs” – we can’t afford that.’

Fellow panellist Jon Andrews, Director of Education Data and Statistics at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), which recently published a report into the proposals, claimed that the evidence indicated that the Government’s removal of the 50% cap was likely to come ‘at the risk of reduced social mobility’. Detailing the findings of the report, Jon stated that the performance advantage of some ‘faith’ schools falls away ‘when you look at their intake and the prior attainment of their pupils’. Pupils at ‘faith’ schools, he said, ‘were far less likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds’ than pupils at other schools.

Outlining BHA research which revealed that the 50% cap had been incredibly successful in boosting ethnic diversity in religious schools, BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Pavan Dhaliwal described the Government’s proposals as ‘unthinkable’ given ‘the backdrop of a national conversation about what we can do to enhance integration in our society’. She suggested that the move was only possible due to ‘disingenuous religious lobbying’, primarily by the Catholic Education Service, and noted that the Department for Education had even been ordered by the UK Statistics Authority to amend misleading statistics justifying the policy in its green paper after a complaint by the BHA.

Also in attendance was Chair of the APPHG Clive Lewis MP, who stated that ‘the vast majority of parents would choose a good secular, inclusive school over a good “faith” school’ in response to the claim that the proposals would promote parental choice. Labour peer and APPHG Treasurer Lord Dubs agreed, citing polling in Northern Ireland which found that nearly 80% of people are in favour of integrated education. Polls in the rest of the UK show similar levels of support.

BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘Ever since the Government announced its proposal to increase religious discrimination and segregation in English schools, all the evidence and all the expertise has demanded a u-turn. Along with the many others who attended this meeting, we would rather our education system was open, inclusive, and diverse, and we will continue to encourage the Government to be led by the evidence and by the better interests of children, rather than by the vested interests of a disingenuous religious lobby.’


For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Education Campaigner Jay Harman on or 020 7324 3078.

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Department for Education ordered to amend ‘misleading’ faith school figures by UK Statistics Authority following BHA complaint’:

See the BHA’s news item ‘New evidence shows Government proposals to allow 100% religious selection in schools will lead to increased segregation’:

See the BHA’s news item ‘Government publishes plans to allow full religious discrimination in school admissions’:

Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘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.

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