Bishop advocates Faith Schools
should stop Religious Selection
The Times, 22 April 2011
Schools have been accused of using faith criteria to exclude those from less well-off families to boost results.
Thousands of families who attend church to secure places at popular Church of England schools face being denied entry under radical plans revealed today to overhaul admissions.
The C of E is drastically revising its guidelines to limit the number of places offered to those from church backgrounds.
It will be a significant blow to parents who attend services or help out with parish activities in order to get their children into high-performing faith schools, and could damage academic standards.
The Bishop of Oxford, the Right Rev John Pritchard, chairman of the C of E's board of education, said schools should end the bias towards children from religious homes even if it lowers academic results. He said:
"Every school will have a policy that [it] has a proportion of places for church youngsters ... what I would be saying is that number ought to be minimised because our primary function and our privilege is to serve the wider community. Ultimately, I hope we can get the number of reserved places right down to 10 per cent.”
Anti-faith-school groups welcomed his comments and said that such a move would help to end "discrimination” in faith schools. The C of E's board of education will publish new guidance this summer urging its schools to be more inclusive and to "remember their core purpose”.
Almost one million pupils attend C of E primary and secondary schools, which account for a fifth of the state school sector.
Demand for places means a rise in church attendance during children's early years and in some areas has created a property price bubble as parents outbid each other to get into the catchment area of a church school.
The schools have been accused of using faith criteria to exclude those from less well-off families to boost results.
Asked if he was trying to stop parents playing the system by feigning religious observance to get into a church school, Bishop Pritchard said:
"I want church schools to remember that their real calling is to serve the whole community ... rather than setting too high a figure on children whose families go to church.”
Faith schools are free to set their own admissions criteria and prioritise children of a certain faith. Only if they have spare places are they obliged to offer them to those of other religions or of no faith.
Bishop Pritchard, 62, who was converted to Christianity while a student at Oxford, said:
"I want to remind the church schools of the country that our particular call is to serve the disadvantaged of our society. To serve the poor. I'm trying to remind the Church of what our calling is, asking governing bodies to remember the purpose of our schools. ‘When you are thinking of your own admissions criteria do remember what the core calling of a church school has been for 200 years.' ”
The C of E's board of education cannot force schools to alter their admissions policies and Bishop Pritchard insisted that it would be for dioceses to work with schools to decide how to implement the new guidance.
"It could lower standards or it could raise standards but that's not what concerns me as a church leader as much as whether we are keeping to our core values,” said Bishop Pritchard, an evangelical who has written books intended to make Christianity more accessible. "But I am not the head who is under other pressures, and they have to make the decision.”
A group of religious leaders opposed to faith schools welcomed the move. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chairman of the Accord Coalition, said:
"This attempts to help rectify current policy, which means that religion and discrimination in schools have become almost synonymous. Schools should be inclusive and tolerant and no state-funded school should be allowed to discriminate on the grounds of religion for any of their teacher posts or any pupil places.”
But the British Humanist Association said that it did not go far enough. Andrew Copson, its chief executive, said:
"It remains outrageous that 100 per cent publicly funded schools are permitted to discriminate against children and parents on grounds of religion at all. We would encourage all people within the [C of E] who believe in social justice, equality and fair access to public services to seek a total end to discrimination in their schools, other religious groups to do the same, and the Government to end its support of religiously selective and segregated education at the public expense.”
The overhaul was described by Professor Anne West, of the London School of Economics, an expert on school admissions, as the biggest potential change to entry to C of E schools for a generation.
"There will be quite a lot of concern at school level because it could drastically change the character of the schools in some cases,” she told The Times Education Supplement.
The Rev Clive Sedgewick, director of education for the dioceses of Bradford and Ripon & Leeds, said that any changes would have to be made slowly. He said:
"We have enough things with academies and free schools that we may be shooting ourselves in the foot to make massive changes in addition, personally, I might suggest a third of places being reserved. There's a lot of debate to be had.”
Mr Sedgewick said that the move was likely to prove contentious with some parents. He said:
"There are parents [who] will see it as a retrograde step to have a higher number of non-church-attendees.”
Under the previous Labour Government, attempts to reserve 25 per cent of places at new faith schools for nonreligious pupils were thwarted by lobbying from the Roman Catholic Church.
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Other articles can be found in:
The Daily Mail
Bishop calls on Church of England
to open up its Schools
Ekklesia, 22 April 2011
The Accord Coalition for inclusive schooling and the Christian think-tank Ekklesia have welcomed a suggestion from the Bishop of Oxford, that church schools should severely limit religious selection.
The Rt Rev John Pritchard makes his comments in an interview in this week's Times Education Supplement - saying that Church of England Schools should limit the proportion of pupils that they select on the grounds of belief to just 10 per cent of their intake.
This would be a major departure from previous policy, with some schools selecting 100 per cent of pupils on religious grounds.
The Bishop, who is also Chair of the Church of England's Board of Education and the episcopal spokesperson on education in the House of Lords, has spoken ahead of the publication of new Church of England guidance later this summer for diocesan education boards.
Some church figures have already attacked the bishop - but others, including Accord and Ekklesia have welcomed his call for radical reform, while saying that the end goal should be to remove 'religious selection' altogether.
The chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, said on 21 April 2011:
"This is a very welcome step that attempts to help rectify current policy, by which religion and discrimination in schools have sadly become almost synonymous."
Rabbi Romain continued: "Schools should be inclusive and tolerant and no state-funded school should be allowed to discriminate on the grounds of religion for any of their teacher posts or any pupil places. That way we will help create a future society that is more inclusive and tolerant."
Symon Hill from Ekklesia, which has long advocated reform, told Radio 5 Live this morning that in moving towards the end of religious discrimination in its schools, the Church of England would be properly following in the footsteps of Jesus, who, he pointed out, addressed and invited all - not just those from the 'correct' religious group.
Over 20% of state funded schools in England are Church of England schools, and most of its secondary schools and almost 45% of its primary and middle schools are able to select all of their pupils on religious grounds if they are sufficiently oversubscribed.
Bishop Pritchard argues that Church schools should "serve the wider community", taking many more pupils of other faiths or of no faith.
Church of England General Synod member Alison Ruoff responded negatively to his proposal on BBC Radio 4 this morning (22 April), suggesting that allowing "anybody" into Church schools would "dilute" them and remove their Christian identity.
But Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, and cofounder of the Accord Coalition, says that this is the opposite of the case. He explained:
"The Bishop of Oxford is urging the Church of England to move in the right direction, which is to end discrimination on grounds of belief in publicly funded religious foundation schools. The principle of openness he is advocating is not just pragmatically appropriate, it is thoroughly Christian. The contrary idea, enshrined in current policy, that it is acceptable to take large amounts of taxpayers' money and use it to deny some children entry to publicly-funded schools because they are from the 'wrong' belief background, offends natural justice in a plural society.
But it is also deeply unChristian. It undermines the core message of the Gospel, which is about self-giving love, not institutional self-preservation. The 'Christian ethos' argument, by which some try to defend discrimination, needs to be turned on its head. Excluding pupils because of their faith background or lack of it, or putting parents into a position where they have to lie about their beliefs to get their children into a school with limited places: such things are not 'Christian', they are morally wrong. A true Christian ethos is about being open to all on the basis of neighbourly need and concern, giving particular priority to those from poor or deprived backgrounds, taking an exemplary stand for social justice, and refusing to behave tribally by privileging 'our own' at others' expense," said the Ekklesia co-director.
The Daily Mail said this morning that the Bishop of Oxford's statement was also "the first time the Church has admitted that its schools are effectively academically selective".
Independent research indicates that faith schools often effectively cream off the brightest pupils from more advantaged backgrounds - rather than being successful because of their religious credentials, as some proponents of the status quo have argued.
Other concerns and objections over the cultural and demographic effects of religious selection revolve around questions of community harmony and the encouraging of understanding and direct contact between pupils from different faith, ethnic and social backgrounds.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain commented: "There has been a growing disquiet recently both within religious circles and generally as to the way in which faith-based schools may become sources of division within society. Schools, especially state-funded ones, should serve the community around them. The Bishop of Oxford's proposals will move Church schools back towards that direction."
The Accord chair added that change was also in the interests of parents and the wider community – and what they wanted.
"Evidence of support for a more inclusive admissions policy came in an ICM survey for Channel 4 last summer, which found that 59 per cent of adults believed schools should be for everyone, regardless of religion, while only last month a report from the Office of the Children's Commissioner found that pupils opposed schools selecting on the grounds of religion by 64 per cent to 20 per cent” said Dr Romain.
The British Humanist Association (BHA) has said that the Bishop of Oxford's proposal is a big step forward, but needs to go further.
BHA chief executive Andrew Copson commented:
"Any reduction in discrimination has to be welcomed, but it remains outrageous that 100 per cent publicly funded schools are permitted to discriminate against children and parents on grounds of religion at all. We would encourage all people within the Church of England who believe in social justice, equality and fair access to public services to seek a total end to discrimination in their schools, on other religious groups to do the same, and on the government to end its support of religiously selective and segregated education at the public expense."
The Accord Coalition (http://accordcoalition.org.uk/) was launched in 2008 and campaigns to end religious discrimination in school staffing and admissions, and for all state maintained schools to provide Personal, Social, Health and Economic education, assemblies & Religious Education that teaches children about the wide variety of religions and beliefs in society.
Its growing list of members and supporters includes the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, the British Humanist Association, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the racial justice think-tank The Runnymede Trust. It also has members from the four largest groupings in parliament.
More from Ekklesia on the Accord Coalition:
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Church Schools should end Religous Selection
To see what Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, said in response to Rt Rev John Pritchard's proposal please click on the following link:
Would you send your child to a faith school, and why?
The Times Schoolgate Blog, 21 April 2011
I have often wondered why strong atheists such as Alex Renton - who writes about this in tomorrow's Times 2 - choose to send their children to faith schools. Is it because the school in question is the only one on offer, or is it because they are searching for a school with better results or a particular social cohort?
More than a third of state schools in England have a faith or religious character. That's 6,820 maintained mainstream faith schools out of a total of 20,208. Around 68 per cent of these are Church of England in character, with 29 per cent having a Roman Catholic background. There are other minority faith schools; Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim, plus one each which are Greek Orthodox, Quaker and Seventh Day Adventist. However, these make up only 57 of the total.
Faith schools tend to have lower rates of children on free school meals than non-faith schools. Is this - awful as it sounds - why they appeal to people? Or perhaps this is unfair to those who are genuinely searching for a school which will give their children a religious basis on which to live their lives.
I know that the faith school issue is very divisive. We have had various, lively, discussions on the topic on this blog. Some say they work against social segregation and introduce selection "by the back door". Others say that everyone should have a choice - and there will be more choice soon, as many of the much-vaunted free schools will have a faith school aspect. However, I wonder what the reaction will be to the new guidelines on admissions which are due to be published by the CofE this summer.
So, what do you think? My feeling is that parents don't necessarily want a huge choice of schools. They simply want a good, local school to send their child to. If you send your child to a faith school - or if you particularly didn't want to - please let us know your reasons.
Please see original article here: