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Thirty leading Anglicans, including former Bishop of Bolton, criticise guidance promoting ‘religious discrimination in admission policies’ to provide ‘pew fodder’

Photo © David Dixon (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Thirty leading Anglicans, including the former Bishop of Bolton, the Right Reverend David Gillett, have written to the Church of England to express their dismay at guidance calling faith-based admissions an ‘enormous missional opportunity’.

The letter, which was organised by the Accord Coalition, has been welcomed by Humanists UK – a founding member of Accord –  for making it clear that ‘opposition to religious discrimination in state-school admissions cuts across different faith and belief groups and is motivated by robust evidence against the unfair practice’.

In the letter, the group of thirty theologians, clergy, and civil rights activists argue that a Church of England report called Children and Youth Ministry overlooks ‘… a body of evidence showing clearly that religiously selective admission arrangements are widely exploited, artificially boost church attendance, and more likely to benefit affluent families’. It points out that the practice is in ‘stark contrast with pronouncements from Church education officials… that [C of E]schools are not faith schools for Christians, but Church schools for everyone in their local community’ and fuels the view that their purpose is to provide ‘pew fodder or to evangelise, rather than for education for its own sake’.

In response to the letter, Church of England Chief Education Officer Nigel Genders said ‘There is no suggestion or advice that schools admissions policies should be changed and we do not see school admissions arrangements as a way to increase the number of people in churches’. However, the report that prompted the letter said, ‘The role of school admissions also cannot be overlooked’ and called the additional church attendance it causes ‘an enormous missional opportunity’ involving ‘large quantities of these 5-11’s attending church for several years’.

The current law allows schools with a religious character, including Church of England schools, to select up to 100% of their pupils by faith. And, this year, the Government gave the green light to the most religiously selective school to open in over a decade in Peterborough. However, thanks to a successful campaign led by Humanists UK and others after Theresa May’s Government proposed to scrap a 50% cap in 2016, religious Free Schools are still only permitted to prioritise half of their pupils on faith grounds.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education Reverend Stephen Terry, who was also one of the signatories, commented:

‘It is disappointing and contradictory that national Church officials have set out an inclusive vision for CofE schools in recent years but, in practice, done very little to bring this about. For officials to now issue guidance that encourages dioceses to promote religious selection in admissions is inconsistent and a matter for great concern. It is morally questionable for the Church to act in this way, which causes damage to its reputation.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said:

‘The fact that this letter has been signed by thirty leading Anglicans, including the former Bishop of Bolton and other clergy just goes to show that opposition to religious discrimination in state-school admissions cuts across different faith and belief groups and is motivated by robust evidence against this unfair practice rather than any animosity towards religion.

‘More than half of Church of England secondaries select on faith grounds yet the Church brazenly maintains it provides schools for all. We strongly urge it to bring its actions in line with its rhetoric and ensure that Church schools truly are for the local community by making every one open and accessible to all regardless of religion or belief.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at  or phone 020 7324 3000.

Read our most recent article about the thousands of children denied a place at their first choice of primary school

Read our article about the most religiously selective school to be approved in a decade

Read more about our work on state-funded faith schools

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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