The Government was urged this week to rethink its proposal to lift the current rule preventing free schools set up by the Churches and other faiths from selecting more than half their pupils on religious grounds.
In an open letter published in The Times on Monday, 76 signatories —representing a diverse range of civic life — urged the retention of the 50 per cent cap: “The 50 per cent cap sends a clear signal that faith schools should have both religious roots and openness to others.” Organised by the Accord Coalition, which seeks to end what it sees as discrimination in faith schools, the letter continued: “In an increasingly diverse Britain, this is exactly the wrong time to give faith schools even more power to divide children. Religion and belief need not be at odds with integration.”
Among those signing the letter were religious leaders, cross-party parliamentarians, the leaders of two teachers’ and head teachers’ unions, and two former Ministers of State for Education. Several Anglican signatories included the Revd Professor Keith Ward and the Revd. Professor Michael Reiss, who is an expert on science education.
When the proposal to lift the 50 per cent cap on faith admissions in free schools was included in a Green Paper published in September (News, 16 September), a statement from the church of England Education Office said that it would not be affected by the proposal as C of E schools were intended to serve the wider community, and only a minority maintained designated “faith” places.
This week the Church’s Chief Education Officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, reiterated this position. “We welcome the fact that the proposal to lift the cap shows the Government’s confidence in church schools but it will not change our approach to existing schools and in bidding for new schools. Our schools will serve the whole community.”
Commons debate proposals A Labour-sponsored motion to note the Green Paper proposals on faith-based admissions and grammar schools was debated in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Taking part in the debate the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman, said: “I want to scotch the myth that church schools are forces for segregation.” Most church schools do not select at all, while a small minority applied faith criteria only where they were oversubscribed and no alternative provision was available, she said. The composition of church schools reflected social geography. In Blackburn and Bradford, up to 95 per cent of pupils were Muslim. In rural areas they were less diverse, owing to patterns of migration and settlement. “C of E policy of being open to all promotes cohesion and understanding.”