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Giles Fraser: How schools ought to discriminate

13 May 2009

Church schools have been getting it in the neck again for having admissions policies that are “discriminatory”. How is it that discrimination has become some sort of über-pejorative term?

Discrimination means nothing more than the ability to recognise dif­fer­ences — in this case, differ­­ences between applicants for a school place. Of course church-school ad­mis­sion policies are discriminatory — all school ad­mission policies are discriminatory. To base one’s policy on proximity to the school is just as discriminatory — the discriminat­ory factor being proximity.

Some presume that an admis­sions policy that uses some measure of church involvement inevitably means that a school will get posher, as pushy middle-class parents always manage to get to the front of the queue by getting to the front of the pew.

Yet the reality is often just the reverse. If the school is in an affluent area, surrounded by expensive hous­ing, involvement with church might just be a way for the kids up on the estate to get a place at the middle-class school down the hill.

The key question is what sort of discrimination is appropriate for a church school. It does not seem at all inappropriate to me that a school that is intended to be a place of Chris­tian education should look at church involvement as a measure of dis­crimina­tion. If you were applying for a place in a choir school, would you not think it appropriate if, for example, being able to sing well formed some part of the admissions policy?

Like many people of faith, I want God to play a part in my children’s education. I would react very badly to the prospect of the state educating my children according to a set of secular values with which I have little sympathy, just as an atheist might well object to his or her child being educated according to Christian values.

For me, the secular is not a level playing field that is fair to all, religious and non-religious alike, but increasingly a place actively hostile to faith. More and more, the very idea of the supposedly value-neutral secular is a Trojan horse for an aggressive and profoundly anti-religious strain of atheism.

The term “useful idiot” is often attributed to Lenin, describing those who lived in liberal democracies and were unwittingly of help to the Communism of the Soviets without actually supporting it. Christians who attack church schools for being “discriminatory” are being wheeled out by anti-religious secularists in a similar way.

Canon Fraser is Team Rector of Putney, in south London.

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