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Figures suggest schools do not ‘select by the back door’

22 November 2013


NEW statistics from the Church of England's Education Division suggest that the intake of the Church's 4664 schools is broadly similar to that of non-church schools. One in four pupils at a C of E secondary school is from an ethnic-minority background, and 15 per cent of pupils are eligible for free school meals - a key poverty indicator - the same proportion as in non-church schools.

The figures contradict persistent claims by secularist organisations that church-school admissions are skewed to favour middle-class families. Writing in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, who chairs the Board of Education, criticised "the distorted lens of secularist groups who seek to claim that church schools effectively select by the back door".

These allegations were resurrected last week when the Archbishop of Canterbury remarked during an interview with The Times, focusing on poverty, that "there's a steady move away from faith-based entry tests." He said: "It is not necessary to select to get a really good school." A subsequent statement from Lambeth Palace emphasised that Archbishop Welby fully supported the right of schools to set their own admissions criteria, including those based on faith.

In fact, the admissions policies of all church schools - aided or controlled - comply with Department for Education regulations, and although many include church attendance as a qualification for places, only about 11 very oversubscribed secondary schools bring this criterion into play.

The C of E's chief education officer, the Revd Jan Ainsworth, said: "We have always maintained that C of E schools serve a wide range of pupils, and we now have statistical evidence that this is the case. Of course, the data represents an average, and varies around the country, and there may be cases where a school seems less inclusive. But the data demonstrates conclusively that these cases are the exception rather than the norm."

The latest statistics also confirm that C of E schools are effective: 81 per cent of its primaries and 76 per cent of its secondaries were rated by OFSTED as "outstanding" or "good", both slightly higher (three per cent and four per cent respectively) than the national average. The Church's own inspections of its schools' spiritual and pastoral effectiveness rated more than nine out of ten as good or outstanding.

Reporting the findings to the General Synod this week, Bishop Pritchard described church schools as a "national treasure", which the Government should allow to expand to meet parental demand and the urgent need for extra places.

School cap. The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has ruled out opening any new schools until government rules that cap the number of RC pupils in new schools at 50 per cent are changed, writes Tim Wyatt.

A statement from the Bishops' Conference this month said: "The imposition of a 50-per-cent cap on the control of admissions is not a secure basis for the provision of a Catholic school and [we urge] dioceses to resist any pressure to establish a school on that basis." The statement said that it would press the Government to modify the policy so that Catholics no longer face a "disproportionate disadvantage".

Department for Education rules require new schools to be either a free school or an academy, and, unlike existing schools, these types of school cannot provide more than half their places exclusively to one faith group.

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