CLERGY children face an “unintentional structural disadvantage” when applying for school places, because exceptions are not always made for parents who live in tied accommodation, the General Synod of the Church of England is to hear next month.
A private member’s motion from the Revd Tiffer Robinson (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich), to be debated on the Sunday, requests that the provisions made in the school admissions code for military and civil-service families should also be made for members of the clergy and other workers who are required to live in tied accommodation.
“There is a structural disadvantage for those living in tied accommodation, because moving employment or post also entails changing their residence,” his supporting paper reads. “This means that any application for a school place in the new area will be a late or ‘in year’ application. Currently, an admissions authority is under no obligation to consider the imminent move when determining place of residence.”
Most school-admission authorities require the family to be living in the area of the chosen school, and to use this address when applying for a place. Exceptions must be made for military personnel who are being posted to a new area, or for civil servants who are due to return to the UK after working abroad, but other cases are left to the discretion of the board.
“Clerics have continuously raised the issue with me,” Mr Robinson said on Tuesday. “I discovered that there was very little we could do — and this motion was it. It means to standardise the process across the board, so that every school-admissions authority accepts a letter of appointment as proof of residence, whereas now only some do, depending on whether they feel generous.”
The aim of the motion is to prompt the Synod to lobby the Education Secretary, Justine Greening, to include such provision for clergy and others — including ministers of other denominations and faiths, farmers, and hospitality employees — in the code when it is next revised. “There are certainly more people in tied accommodation in my poor small rural parish than me,” Mr Robinson said.
In the mean time, admissions authorities should be asked “to do what they can within the current regulations to take this into account in the mean time”.
About 3000 of the C of E’s clergy are estimated to have school-age children. “A particularly challenging situation is that the school at which the children are unable to get a place is a church school at which their clergy parent is ex officio foundation governor, or another local school with which the church has close links,” the motion reads.
“There is an assumption from the wider community that the family have chosen not to send their children to the school (as would be their right), which causes ongoing problems for the local priest. Dispelling such assumptions is challenging, and is often met with incredulity that a church school would refuse to give a place to clergy children.”
Mr Robinson also cites the disruption of moving children from school to school as a “major reason” that potential ordinands delay their training. “Women in particular tend to prioritise their children’s education above their own sense of vocation, which is anecdotally one reason given why women on average present themselves for discernment later.”
Concerns had been raised at the Synod before, he said, but it had been “too big an issue” to tackle in the past, owing to the expectation of giving “preferential treatment” to clergy children. “We decided not to go down that route,” Mr Robinson said. “This motion is about school-admission authorities, not church schools; nor does it concern getting children into ‘good’ schools.”
The General Synod’s secretary general, William Nye, writes in an accompanying paper that it is “likely to be difficult to persuade either Government or the general population that the State should give particular benefits to clergy families or families of those in tied accommodation but who are not required or compelled to move with the same regularity as Service personnel”.