NEW guidelines for Church of England schools, published this week by the Board of Education, suggest three criteria for assessing church commitment when parents apply for “faith priority” places. These are “known to the church”, “attached to the church”, and “at the heart of the church”.
This simplification of the existing system is expected to ease the task of priests under pressure to support applications to oversubscribed church schools.
Many of the Church’s 4620 schools are oversubscribed, and there is particular competition for places at most of the 220 secondary schools. The proportion of places reserved for pupils with a Christian commitment varies from school to school, but all Anglican schools should accept at least 15 per cent of pupils from other faiths or none, and new schools should reserve at least 25 per cent of places for non-Christians, says the Board. In some cases, all places can be offered to the local community regardless of faith commitment, the guidelines say. This situation already exists in church schools in some urban areas.
The guidelines follow the new Government Code on Admissions, made public last week after extensive consultation with the Churches, and the Church of England has welcomed the changes. These include the abolition of interviews; preventing schools from giving priority to the siblings of former pupils; and the abolition of the principle of “first preference first”, on which schools gave priority to children whose parents named the school as their first choice.
Senior Anglican educationists initially resisted the latter change, arguing that in areas where there were still grammar schools, the abolition of “first preference first” would put parents who genuinely preferred a Church of England comprehensive at a disadvantage to families who saw it as a fall-back position for children who did not win a selective place.
But Canon David Whittington, the Church’s acting chief education officer, said that they now accepted statistical analysis that shows that, in areas where “first preference first” had already been banned, more parents got a place at the school they wanted.
The Board’s guidelines were meant to be flexible, and had been drawn up as advice to dioceses, which have a mandatory part in approving admissions codes for church schools, Canon Whittington said. “Dioceses which have not already done so should produce their own clear guidelines which reflect local conditions.”
Has the Church of England got the new admissions criteria for church schools right? Vote here