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UK >

Campaign group: faith schools have admissions bias

by Margaret Holness, Education Correspondent

Posted: 06 Dec 2013 @ 12:08

SCHOOLS that apply religious criteria for admissions continue to discriminate against poorer and ethnic-minority pupils, whatever their faith background, those who have commissioned a new survey say.

The Fair Admissions Campaign - a grouping that includes the British Humanist Association, and the Socialist Education Association, both opposed to faith schools - says that, by comparing the intake of schools on a geographical basis, its survey suggests that Church of England schools take ten per cent fewer children eligible for free school meals than the local average, Roman Catholics 24 per cent fewer, Muslims 25 per cent fewer, and Jewish schools 61 per cent fewer.

The Fair Admissions Campaign says that its survey undermines statistics from the Department for Education, released last month, which showed that the figures for C of E schools were broadly comparable with community schools.

The C of E's chief education officer, the Revd Jan Ainsworth, criticised the Campaign's use of the statistics as "wilful misrepresentation". She said: "We do not recognise the picture of church schools the survey paints. We are proud of the way in which our schools enable children from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed."

The survey has also angered the heads of church schools in challenging areas. David Ainsworth, the head of Trinity C of E High School, Manchester, listed in the survey as one of the worst offenders because 100 per cent of its places are offered on faith grounds, said: "We don't demand that our pupils are Christians - just that they have a faith."

Comments in the most recent OFSTED report confirms Trinity's multicultural make-up: "The majority of students are from mixed ethnic backgrounds, mainly black British, African, and Caribbean. This is well above the national average." The school also has a higher-than-average percentage of children eligible for free school meals, and pupils with statements of special educational need, the OFSTED report adds.

The director of school-support services at the London Diocesan Board for Schools, Elizabeth Wolverson, said that more than half the pupils at the 19 secondary schools in the London diocese are of black and ethnic-minority heritage; almost one in four (23.7 per cent) receive free school meals; and 32 per cent do not have English as a home language.

In some secondary schools, the figures are much higher, Mrs Wolverson said. At St Augustine's, Kilburn, recently rated "outstanding" by OFSTED, 719 of the 768 pupils are from black or ethnic-minority backgrounds, and 589 receive free school meals. The same criteria apply to more than half the pupils at St Marylebone School, London.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph last week, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, chairman of the Board of Education, criticised the use of "the distorted lens of secularist groups" to claim that church schools select by the back door.

"One of the great accusations against church schools is that they are predominantly for white, middle-class pupils. The statistics tell a different story."

A statement from the Catholic Education Service said that its schools consistently take a higher than average proportion of black and ethnic-minority pupils.

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