What makes an effective representation?
This guide is aimed at local campaigners who are responding to a formal consultation on proposals for a new faith school.
How new schools are established
In the case of a new school, a statutory consultation must be held. By law, this has to include an opportunity for local people to submit comments (called ‘representations’).
For maintained schools and some free schools, the local authority will decide that a new school is needed and then invite proposals from a range of potential providers, some of which may be religious groups. However, it is possible for a religious group that wants to run a school to apply directly to the Secretary of State to open a free school without the local authority inviting proposals. Either way, local people must have the same opportunities to comment.
The Secretary of State will usually make the final decision on who will run the new school – or whether to go ahead with a new school at all – but sometimes, in the case of new voluntary aided schools, for example, it’s the local authority or the Schools Adjudicator. For free schools, competitions are run and adjudicated by the proposer but the Secretary of State still gets the final say.
Tips on writing an effective representation
It’s easy to construct an argument against a faith school – they’re divisive, discriminatory, and unpopular.
But when submitting a formal representation it’s important to be aware of the things councillors, the Schools Adjudicator or the Secretary of State will be looking out for. Their role is not to consider the general arguments for or against faith schools, but rather to judge each specific proposal for a new school against criteria set by the central government.
You also need to bear in mind that the religious lobby is deeply entrenched in our political culture – many councillors will have predetermined ideas about faith schools being better schools. It’s important to refute these myths politely and methodically.
- Read the proposals very carefully – particularly the sections on admissions, employment and religious education (RE)
- Link your objections to the factors which must by law be considered by decision-makers (see below)
- Demonstrate, with evidence where possible, that your views are shared by other local people
- Include research and statistics to back up your arguments – local if possible (such as petitions)
- Make the positive case for an inclusive community school (if a proposal has been received for one)
- Write clearly and succinctly with short paragraphs
- Explain who you are and why you have an interest, and state clearly if you’re a parent, a carer, or a grandparent
- Put yourself in the place of a local councillor who has no strong opinion either way on faith schools – would it convince them?
- Make generalised comments about faith schools
- Make irrelevant objections about the religion of the proposed school
- Include anecdote or hearsay (unless you have strong evidence to verify it)
- Use emotive terms such as ‘sectarian’, ‘indoctrination’, or ‘brainwashing’ – it won’t help!
- Write more than is necessary to make your point
Whose views count?
By law, the decision-maker must consider the views of ‘all those affected’ by the proposals for a new school, including pupils, families of pupils and staff.
The decision-maker is obliged to give the greatest weight to representations from those people likely to be most directly affected by the proposals, for example the parents of children who might be eligible to attend the new school. If this applies to you then make sure you state it clearly.
What factors must decision-makers consider?
When you make your representation, it’s important to link your objections to factors that the decision-maker will be considering. These include:
- Parental choice – Would a new faith school reduce choice for parents, especially non-religious ones?
- Diversity – Would a new faith school reduce diversity in school provision? Are there already lots of faith schools? Would a new faith school upset the balance between community and religious schools?
- Discrimination – Are there any sex, race or disability discrimination issues that could arise from a new faith school?
- Demand – Is there any evidence that there is not sufficient demand for places for a new faith school to be sustainable?
- Community cohesion – Would the proposed new school meet its statutory duty to promote community cohesion by ‘increasing inclusion and equality of access for all social groups’? Will it be able to help children to ‘learn to understand others, to value diversity whilst also promoting shared values’? If not, say so.
- Disadvantaged groups – Will the proposed new school adversely impact disadvantaged groups?