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Pandemic policies on faith school admissions show why they should be scrapped altogether, says Humanists UK

Changes to faith school admissions policies taking place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic illustrate why religious selection should be scrapped altogether, Humanists UK has said.

Following UK Government guidance published in July this year, religious schools across England have applied to alter their admissions criteria by waiving or diluting church attendance requirements. 163 schools overseen by the London Diocesan Board for Schools and another 39 in the Diocese of Sheffield have reportedly amended their policies in this way, with similar amendments almost certain to have also occurred elsewhere.

Last week, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) – which is responsible for ensuring schools stick to admissions rules in England and must sign off on any proposed changes – approved an alteration to the admissions arrangements of Lowdham Church of England primary in Nottinghamshire. Previously, families who could prove they had actively participated in worship at a CofE church for a period of twelve months prior to their child’s application were given priority in admissions. However, the new policy limits attendance to ‘the period when the church or alternative premises have been available for public worship’.

There is strong evidence to suggest that, even under normal circumstances, vulnerable and disadvantaged people, including those with disabilities and health conditions, as well as ethnic minorities, find it difficult to meet the standard criteria for ‘regular worship’. This means that their children are more likely to miss out on school places when these criteria are applied.

In October this year, the OSA stopped short of upholding a complaint that the policy requiring ‘weekly’ worship unfairly discriminated against ‘single-parent and low-income families, who might have difficulty in achieving such a level of attendance’. However, it did acknowledge that such policies could put families off applying.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented: 

‘It is positive to see that some faith schools are altering their religiously selective admissions in an attempt to make them fairer in light of the pandemic. But this should prompt these schools to think about the ways in which such policies disadvantage families from a variety of backgrounds even in more normal times.

‘Many people, particularly the poor and vulnerable, struggle to meet overly demanding religious practice requirements – and that is to say nothing of the discrimination inherent to the practice of locking families out of their local state-funded schools on the basis of their religion or belief. We urge the governments of all the UK nations and faith schools to use this opportunity to scrap religiously selective admissions and make our schools inclusive, welcoming, and open to all, regardless of background.’

Humanists UK is currently fundraising for the salary and resourcing costs of its dedicated education campaigner. The appeal was recently launched by Humanists UK patron and children’s rights activist Alf Dubs. Supporters of Humanists UK’s vision for a fairer education system are urged to donate at www.justgiving.com/nofaithschools.

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 most recent article on the faith school requiring weekly church attendance deemed ‘unreasonable’ by the admissions tribunal.

Read Humanists UK’s Manifesto for inclusive schools.

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 100,000 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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