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Need for open school admissions grows more pressing, as third of country set to run out of places

A new Local Government Association (LGA) report says that up to a third of local areas risk being oversubscribed for secondary school places within the next five years, leaving almost 80,000 young people and their families at risk of missing out on a place.

Responding to the new research, Humanists UK – which has long campaigned for community ethos schools that are open to all irrespective of background –  said the figures show why the need for integrated schools is more pressing than ever.

The LGA’s analysis of Government statistics on school capacity found that by 2025/26 fifty local councils will have insufficient secondary school places for the number of children living in those areas. This ‘looming crisis’ could leave thousands without a school place. However, the situation is likely to be worse for those who live in areas with a high proportion of faith schools which, when they are oversubscribed, are legally permitted to prioritise pupils whose parents share the religion of the school. Such parents are more likely to have to travel extremely long distances to get school places.

There is a wealth of robust evidence to show that religious selection also involves selection by ethnicity, parental wealth, and prior attainment, meaning that, in areas with high numbers of faith schools, it is disadvantaged pupils who are more likely to lose out on a place. Last month, new research by Humanists UK established that, since 53% of the secondary schools in Liverpool are faith schools, in some areas of the city non-religious and minority faith pupils, particularly those from less affluent backgrounds, would find it virtually impossible to secure a good school place.

Despite this, the number of faith schools continues to grow. Just this year, the first of a wave of new religious schools which are legally permitted to select 100% of pupils by faith was given the green light to open in Peterborough. It will be the most religiously selective state school to open in a decade. A further 19 new religious schools were also proposed in the latest wave of free school applications.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said:

‘In many areas, it is already the case that faith schools, particularly those that select by religion, have a serious impact on the ability of families from non-religious and minority faith backgrounds to secure a school place. Religious selection also tends to discriminate against BAME and poorer people, meaning it is the most disadvantaged who are put to the back of the queue for places.

‘This new research highlights the serious and pressing need for more school places. However, it is vital that the places that are created to solve this problem are open to the widest possible range of pupils. Faith-based selection is unfair and the segregation it causes is bad for children, bad for families, and bad for communities, which are more likely to be fractured when children are denied the opportunity to mix with others who are different from themselves.

‘We therefore urge the Government to prioritise funding for community ethos schools that are open to all irrespective of background. Not only will this ensure that all pupils have fair access to their local schools, but it will better help to promote the shared values necessary to an integrated society.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at ruth@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.

Read our article on new research by Humanists UK showing the effect of faith-based school admissions in Liverpool.

Read our most recent article on unfair and discriminatory faith-based admissions policies acting as a barrier to socio-economic diversity in schools.

Read our article on the Sutton Trust poll saying 80% of parents think schools should have a mix of pupils from different backgrounds.

Read our article on the first fully religiously selective state-funded school to be approved for a decade.

Read more about our work on faith schools and religious selection.

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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