THE Church of England’s Board of Education should stop saying that their schools are “not faith schools for the faithful . . . [but] church schools for the community”, given that only five dioceses advise their schools against selecting pupils by faith, the Accord Coalition said this week.
A new report, Mixed Signals: The discrepancy between what the Church preaches and what it practises about religious selection at its state-funded schools, produced by the coalition on behalf of the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC), says that 35 out of 40 dioceses “do not advise schools to refrain from using religiously selective admissions criteria”, and that ten of them “recommend that schools engage in some religious selection”. The remaining five were: Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Oxford, and Truro.
State-funded faith schools are permitted to operate an admissions policy that selects pupils on religious grounds when the school is over-subscribed. In a blog written last year, the C of E’s chief executive officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, wrote: “Our schools are not faith schools for the faithful, they are church schools for the community, and we don’t propose to change that.”
Accord is asking the Board of Education to stop making this claim until admissions policies are changed.
Guidance from the Board of Education says that church schools should have “a bias in favour of the disadvantaged in whatever way disadvantage is manifest in the local circumstance of the school”, but also that having pupils who are brought up in a Christian family “enhances” the Christian character of schools as places where pupils can “engage at a profound level with faith in general and the Christian experience and way of life in particular”. It speaks of the need to balance “nurture and service”.
On Tuesday, Mr Genders said that church schools were “often over-subscribed”, and that the Accord findings “do not provide an accurate picture of admissions to or the diverse make-up of Church schools”.
Sixty per cent of C of E schools had no religious affiliation admissions criteria, and those that did give “some priority” to Christian children, he said, did so “in areas where competition for places is acute, and, often, providing places purely on distance from the school would mean that only the wealthiest, who can afford to move house near by, can access the best schools”.