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Faith-based school admissions racially discriminatory, Church Anti-Racism Taskforce told

School admissions policies that prioritise pupils on grounds of faith can lead to indirect racial discrimination, the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education has told the Church of England’s Anti-Racism Taskforce.

In a submission to a consultation asking opinions on how the Church can promote greater racial justice, Accord – of which Humanists UK is a founding member – highlighted evidence showing that religious selection often acts as a proxy for selection by race.

The submission includes case studies, produced collaboratively between Accord and Humanists UK’s Fair Admissions Campaign, which illustrate how pupil composition in oversubscribed CofE schools often fails to match the racial demographics of their local areas. This suggests that pupils from black and ethnic minority backgrounds – in this case study, particularly those with south Asian heritage – are more likely to be locked out of Church schools than their white peers.

Chair of the Accord Coalition Revd Stephen Terry said:

‘Church schools do not seek to racially discriminate via their admissions policy, but the reality is that the policy of some schools is indirectly racially discriminatory. There is little awareness of this problem and, unless the issue is recognised and addressed, it will only worsen due to the changing demography of English society.’

‘We urge the Church to acknowledge this subject and set out a pathway by which remedial action can be taken. The issue is not confined to Church of England schools, but the Church is the largest single provider of schools in the country. Were it to display leadership in tackling the problem then it would be an innovative and practical demonstration of its commitment to tackling racial inequality.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented: 

‘It has long been established that religiously selective admissions policies exclude pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds and mean that faith schools are not representative of their local areas.

‘In the past, the Church of England has claimed that its schools are for the whole community. However, until faith-based admissions are abolished and families can access their local schools, this is patently not the case. If the Church wants to play its part in tackling race inequality and fostering social cohesion, it must scrap religious selection and open up its schools to all pupils equally.’

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, many Church schools have diluted the religious requirements in their admissions policies to make them fairer. However, there has been little appetite to make these changes permanent. This is despite their disproportionate impact on disadvantaged families – not only ethnic minorities but also disabled people, those with health conditions, and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds – in more normal times.

Indeed, in October, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) – which is responsible for ensuring schools stick to admissions rules in England – upheld a complaint that a requirement for weekly church attendance in a Church school admissions policy was ‘unreasonable’, but stopped short of conceding that the policy unfairly discriminated against ‘single-parent and low-income families, who might have difficulty in achieving such a level of attendance’ or that it had a disproportionate impact on black African families who were more likely to be socioeconomically deprived.

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 Accord’s submission to the Church of England’s Anti-Racism Taskforce.

Read the joint Accord/Fair Admissions Campaign report on indirect racial discrimination in Church schools.

Read our latest article on why pandemic policies on faith school admissions show they should be scrapped altogether.

Read our 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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