Welby denies change in policy on Church school admissions

14 November 2013

KEITH BLUNDY/AEGIS ASSOCIATES

Platform: the then Archbishop-designate Welby speaks at St Aidan's Church of England academy, in Darlington, in November 2012 

Platform: the then Archbishop-designate Welby speaks at St Aidan's Church of England academy, in Darlington, in November 2012 

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has denied that he wants Church of England schools to stop using children's faith as a criterion for admission.

The Times reported on Thursday that Archbishop Welby had told them that church schools were moving away from selecting pupils on the grounds of their religion. But the Church quickly issued a statement that insisted that there had been no change in policy, and that church schools were free to continue to admit children based on their faith, if they wished.

Archbishop Welby said in the statement: "I fully support the current policy for schools to set their own admissions criteria, including the criterion of faith. Nothing in my wider comments to The Times on this subject should be seen as dissenting from this policy."

In a wide-ranging interview with The Times at a Church Urban Fund conference on Wednesday, Archbishop Welby said that "there's a steady move away from faith-based entry tests", and "it is not necessary to select to get a really good school".

Official Church guidance on admissions suggests that only a small number of the Church's 2600 primary schools have such heavy demand for places that admissions based on church affiliation cause difficulties. Some 100 of the 160 secondary schools have similar issues.

The guidance, published in 2011, states that all church schools must be "distinctive and inclusive", balancing service to the wider community while nurturing those in the faith. It says: "There are a number of ways by which inclusiveness can be interpreted, but all church schools should ensure that their policies do make that provision."

A further statement from the Church's communications office described the Times article as "erroneous" and a "creative piece of writing". It noted that 53 per cent of all church schools are "voluntary controlled", meaning that admissions policies are set by the local authority, not the school itself. The remaining schools, known as "voluntary aided", are free to set their own admissions.

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The Times author, Ruth Gledhill, rebutted the accusation that her story was "creative" or "erroneous". She said: "These are untruthful allegations made by the head of comms of the Church of England who should know better. I have published a transcript of our exclusive interview with the Archbishop on Tumblr and an audio of his comments is available on The Times website, if readers wish to check for themselves. He said what we said he said, and we also reported accurately his subsequent u-turn."

Both "voluntary controlled" and "voluntary aided" types of school must also comply with the Department for Education's Admissions Code. The code permits aided schools to admit a percentage of pupils on the grounds of their parents' faith but only a handful of schools across the country continue to use this criterion.

Archbishop Welby also said in the Times interview that good leadership was the most significant factor in producing a good school. "There are unbelievably brilliant schools that are entirely open to all applicants without selection criteria apart from residence . . . and which produce staggeringly good results. It's a question of - and you can point to them all over the place - it's a question of outstanding leadership.

"What you are seeing in the church schools is a deeper and deeper commitment to the common good." Responding to the Times article, the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, said that Church of England schools provided an excellent education to all. "In only two out of 196 church schools in the diocese are a majority of pupils taken on faith criteria, while in most of our schools the proportion of pupils taken on faith criteria is in the order of five to ten per cent.

"Church schools are valued not only by parents who happen to be Anglican, but by those who belong to other Christian traditions, those who belong to other faiths, and those of no faith."

Archbishop Welby's comments reopen a long debate over the admissions policies of church schools. In 2011, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, who is chairman of the Church's board of education, suggested cutting the ratio of places reserved for Anglicans in schools to just one in ten. Bishop Pritchard said then that the mission of the schools should not be to "collect nice Christians into safe places", but to serve the wider community.

No percentage or ratio was prescribed, however, and the admissions policies of individual "voluntary aided" schools remain the decision of the local governing body.

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