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Researchers allege bias in faith schools

07 February 2008

by Margaret Holness, Education Correspondent

A GOVERNMENT-FUNDED report that says grammar schools should be scrapped in the interests of greater equality in education also advocates the wider use of lotteries to allocate places in oversubscribed schools.

The report, from researchers at Sheffield Hallam University and the London-based National Centre for Social Research, goes on to claim that faith schools take more of their pupils from wealthier backgrounds than community schools. “We have seen that voluntary aided schools have socially segregated intakes.”

The report admits, however, that its data on segregation was supplied by Professor Anne West of the London School of Economics, and Rebecca Allen, a research student at the London Institute of Education, who gave a paper to the British Education Research Foundation last September, alleging that church schools in London educated fewer children from deprived families and ethnic minorities than comparable community schools.

Last week, Ms Allen gave a paper to Hallam’s Centre for Education and Inclusion Research which made similar claims about schools that were their own admissions authorities — a group that includes the C of E’s 2100 voluntary aided schools and 12 academies.

Analysis of similar data, commissioned by the National Society, concluded that the proportion of church schools suffering severe disadvantage was almost identical with the rest of the state sector.

The director of education for London diocese, Tom Peryer, said: “Cherry-picking is a cliché directed at faith schools, whereas little or no research has been done on the much greater differences between the social profiles of community schools because of the overriding influence of neighbourhood catchment areas. The question of cherry- picking by postcode seems to be of little concern.”

The report was commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DfCSF), but makes clear that its conclusions are not necessarily those of the Government.

Launching the report Faith in the System last year, the Secretary of State, Ed Balls, referred to the Government’s desire to dispel myths of élitism surrounding church schools.

The Church of England has one remaining grammar school, Wilson’s School in Surrey. Only one Anglican comprehensive, the heavily oversubscribed Lady Margaret School in Fulham, west London, uses an element of random selection in its admissions procedures.

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