Admissions policy of faith schools challenged

10 November 2011

by Margaret Holness

THE Accord Coalition, an education pressure-group, launched what it describes as “a local campaign initiative” last week to prevent local authorities from allowing oversub­scribed controlled schools to take the religious affiliation of applicants into account when offering places. It is offering activ­ists a campaign guide.

Controlled schools, almost all of which are Anglican foundations, are required by law to adhere to their local-authority admissions policy. Accord says, however, that some 43 of the 174 local authorities in England allowed some latitude to oversubscribed controlled schools.

A statement announcing the new campaign states that the 43 authorities “permitted religious discrimina­tion of some kind in these school’s oversubscription arrange­ments”.

The chairman of Accord, Rabbi Jonathan Romain, called on activists to get involved in the campaign: “Few realise local councils control the admissions of over one third of all state-funded faith schools, and that with concerted local pressure the schools can be made to be inclusive.”

The ultimate aim of Accord and its supporters is to change the law, removing exemptions from equality law that enable church and other maintained religious schools to reserve a proportion of “faith” places, and require the relevant faith com­mitment for a minority of desig­nated staff, known as “reserve teachers”. These are usually the head, and the teacher responsible for religious education.

A Church of England spokesman said: “Just over half of our schools — around 2500 — are controlled, which means the local authority is responsible for admissions. If the Accord Coalition believes there is a prob­lem with local authority ar­range­ment then it is absolutely right that they take it up with those LAs.”

The new campaign is the latest in a series of attempts by Accord to bring about changes in the law that would denude church schools of their distinctive character. A spokes­man for the coalition represented 11 organisations. These are: the Asso­ciation of Teachers and Lecturers, many of whose members work in church schools; the long-standing Campaign for State Education; the Socialist Educational Association; Ekklesia, the Anglican think tank; the Lesbian and Gay Christian Move­ment; the British Humanist Associa­tion; the General Assembly of Uni­tarian and Free Christian Churches; British Muslims for Secular Demo­cracy; the Hindu Academy; the Runny­mede Trust; and Women Against Fundamentalism.

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