Like far too many parents across England today, we’ve just found out that we didn’t get our first choice of primary school places for our son. This was our first experience of the primary schools admission process and I’m pretty appalled with it.
I’m not sure how it is for you but in my area, there is no real parental choice at all. Firstly, all of the schools in the area are oversubscribed. So in that case it should purely go on postcode which is a pretty fair way of doing things except faith schools that are oversubscribed are exempt from the Equality Act 2010. Other public bodies must not discriminate against ‘protected characteristics’ in any way but faith schools, charged with educating our future generation, can select and therefore discriminate along the lines of ‘religion’.
Let me say this loudly and clearly, state funded schools should not be able to turn pupils away because of their parents’ religion, and the evidence shows such selection constitutes discrimination along religious, ethnic and socio-economic lines.
This is an entirely separate issue to whether religious schools should receive any state funding or whether we should have religious school at all. Evidence from many Church of England and Methodist schools that have inclusive admissions show that a school can maintain a religious ethos while not selecting in this way.
I don’t think I’m alone in my thinking on this matter. A survey conducted by YouGov in November 2012 showed that the public at large opposes religious selection by state funded schools by more than four to one (73% opposed, 18% supportive).
There is only one Ofsted rated ‘good’ primary school that isn’t of a religious nature in my town. Just one, and it’s over subscribed. Not surprisingly, given that a 2014 YouGov poll found that 50% of the population do not ‘regard themselves as belonging to any particular religion’, compared to 43% who do. It also found that only 3% of the population consider themselves to be ‘very religious’ and only 20% ‘fairly religious’, while 37% consider themselves to be ‘not very religious’ and 40% ‘not religious at all’.
Now, we have a faith school 100m or so from our door. We watch the children walk in with their parents from outside of our catchment area from our kitchen window. Indeed they often block our street in with their cars. We are atheists. Arlo is nothing because WTF does a 4 year old know about faith or gods or theology anyway?!!
The criteria for this school was a total eye opener for someone going through this for the first time. There were many criteria. Towards the top were Catholic belonging to the diocese, then not belonging to that church but still Catholic (someone Catholic in Brighton would stand a better chance at getting into a school I could throw a stone at), then it progressed to other Christian religions, moving to other religions and then came our category coming in last ‘other’. Really meaning no faith. So you can be a Muslim or Buddhist and you will be shortlisted before us, despite the fact that it’s a totally separate religion to Catholicism. I guess you are still ‘of faith’ and that makes you better than us of ‘no faith’.
So now, as a family who can only afford one car that is used by my partner for work, the school run will take me 2 hours of walking a day with my 1 year old to take and collect my son from school. Seems reasonable to walk past a school next to my house to do this eh?! All because of over subscription and religious discrimination.
I’m someone who firmly believes in equality, discrimination of any type gets my goat. I don’t understand how as a public body, taking state funds indiscriminately, a school gets to discriminate against people paying taxes to support it?! If a religion wants to fund a school 100% then I guess it’s fair game to do whatever the F they want BUT surely taking state funds should mean that a school can in the very least not discriminate?! No other UK business could get away with such a policy. Schools should not be exempt from the Equality Act. No one should. How is this in keeping with the increasingly multi-cultural society we live in? Why are 4 year olds being discriminated against because of concepts they can’t even understand? If say all the schools were Islamic and discrimating against say Christians there would be an outcry now wouldn’t there? Just because the majority of people benefitting from the system are white Christians, doesn’t mean it’s ‘British’ or OK – it’s the opposite. The Fair Admissions Campaign has a ton of personal testimonies of discrimination, all pretty shocking if you want to become as enraged as me on the issue. If you have suffered from this kind of discrimination then contact the Fair Admissions Campaign who may be able to help you.
To add insult to injury, it is also well known that in my area (and many many others) the religious statistics are over inflated by people baptising their children just to get into the local Catholic/Christian schools, despite them actually not being religious at all. Which I don’t blame the parents for, they are victims of a corrupt system just trying to do the best for their kids, like all parents.
The British Humanist Association does great work in campaigning for change in this area, you can use their template to email your MP on the issue. This is one of the many reasons that I’m a member of the BHA and support their work.
The BHA highlights how religious selection of this nature is bad for cohesion between different religious groups: Dr Jonathan Romain, Rabbi of Maidenhead Synagogue, said ‘I want my children to sit next to a Sikh in class, play football in the break with a Methodist, do homework with a Hindu and walk to the bus stop with a Muslim before returning to their Jewish home.’ How can it be right that state funded schools can have admissions policies that can select up to 100% of pupils on the basis of faith and deny Jonathan’s desire? What a waste it is for our children only to be exposed to other children who think the same as them.
Turning to ethnic segregation, the BMA quotes Professor Ted Cantle, author of the Cantle Report, found that faith schools with religious admission requirements were ‘automatically a source of division’ in Blackburn. Community cohesion is vital for our increasingly pluralistic society, but instead we continue to divide children in their formative years along religious – and hence ethnic – lines.
The Fair Admissions Campaign has launched a map at http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map/ which shows how religiously selective each mainstream English state secondary school’s admissions policy allows it to be, as well as how representative each school is of its local area in terms of eligibility for free school meals and English as an additional language. Overall comprehensive secondaries with no religious character admit 11% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected given their areas. However, comprehensive Church of England secondaries admit 10% fewer; Roman Catholic secondaries 24% fewer; Jewish secondaries 61% fewer; and Muslim secondaries 25% fewer. In addition, there is a clear correlation between religious selection and socio-economic segregation: Church of England schools that don’t religiously select in their policies admit 4% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected, but those whose policies allow every pupil to be selected admit 31% fewer.
Ending religious selection in school admissions should also increase choice, in giving all parents the ability to send their children to their nearest school, or the best school in their area, if that is what they wish. If a school gets good results, why should some children be denied access to it? How would you feel if your child was forced to go to a worse school because of your beliefs? I’d love to hear from people who have experienced this first hand in the comments. I’m sure this is going to be a controversial article, I’ve had many a row with my own mother on the subject but I’m putting it out there because I believe vehemently that in 2016 Britain should be as fair, inclusive and equal as possible. And surely no one is going to argue with that?!