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Diocese consults on ending religious criteria for VC schools admission

12 November 2021

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THE diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich is holding a consultation on whether to cease prioritising children from churchgoing families for places in its controlled schools when they are over-subscribed.

The consultation, carried out with Suffolk County Council, affects 35 voluntary controlled schools, whose admissions are decided by the council.

The proposed change would mean that children were no longer prioritised for school places if their “parents/carers are applying on the grounds that the child and/or the family have been practising members of the Church of England (or other church within the Worldwide Anglican Communion) for a minimum period of one year before the relevant closing date”.

The question of admissions arose when, in summer 2020, the diocese had asked the council to alter its admission arrangements for the 2021/22 school year so that children unable to attend church because of the lockdown could still be prioritised for places. To continue to allow for churches being closed when deciding places for the following school year, the council had to carry out a consultation. It received 18 comments, 15 of which came from “parents or carers [who] expressed concerns in terms of equalities and inclusion”, the council’s consultation document explained.

“In response to this, we have worked with the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocesan Board of Education to review these criteria. Collectively, we believe that the time is right to consult on the future of the religious criteria for the 2023/24 school year.”

The diocesan director of education, Jane Sheat, said: “We’re very clear that church schools serve their local communities, and we’re not aware of many other areas in England where faith-based over-subscription criteria are used in voluntary controlled schools. . . We’d encourage parents to have their say. . .

“It doesn’t feel appropriate any longer to be the only area where church attendance would potentially enable families to get a place in their school. . . We’d be keen simply to come in line with the rest of the country.” Research by the council, she said, had indicated that very few children would be affected by the changes.

“Church schools are not faith schools,” she said, meaning that they sought to serve the local community, not a particular faith community.

The diocese also runs 52 voluntary aided schools and academies, which can set their own admissions policies. The consultation closes today.

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