“Religious schools should be stripped of their right to select pupils according to faith or lose their state funding, according to a two-year study into church and other faith-based state schools.

The Runnymede Trust charity concludes that many  faith schools‘ admission procedures are too selective.

The sector educates a “disproportionately small” number of children from the poorest backgrounds, it says.

The trust, founded to promote social justice, says this contradicts the historical mission of faith schools to challenge poverty and inequality and serve the most disadvantaged in society. “Currently the intake of faith schools is wealthier and higher achieving on entry to secondary school than average,” the report states.

“If faith schools become a means of preserving privilege rather than challenging injustice, then this undermines their espoused vision of ‘lived faith’.”

The report into the way faith schools operate in England, based on interviews with more than 1,000 people over the past two years, calls for faith schools to be forced to return to their original mission to education the poor. Religious education, covering all religions, should become part of the national curriculum, it argues. It suggests faith schools should become open to all either by “setting quotas, ballot selection or emphasising catchment areas over faith affiliation”.

The proposals, launched at a conference yesterday, will reopen the debate over the role of faith schools and whether they are too selective.

The government yesterday published a new admissions code designed to prevent covert selection after the chief schools adjudicator last month reported that one in five faith schools had asked improper questions on application forms, including about parents’ jobs.

The proposals make clear that schools cannot interview pupils or ask parents for financial contributions. But schools will be able to require parents applying for a place to ask their children to “respect” the school’s ethos.

Under the code authorities must consult with parents and the community to make sure their arrangements meet local needs. They will also have to improve the information parents receive on the admissions process. A new appeals code will allow MPs and councillors to support parents at admission appeals hearings.

The schools secretary, Ed Balls, said: “It is my intention that the measures set out in this revised code will ensure parents are listened to and their views shape school policies, he said.

Rob Berkeley, the trust’s deputy director and author of the report, said: “It’s time for a shift so that schools that are funded by taxpayers are responsive and reflect the needs of all pupils and parents, not just those of a particular religion.”

Anthea Lipsett in The Guardian on Friday, December 5th 2008

Link to Right to Divide, the report of the Runnymede Trust

Six Key Recommendations of the Report

1. End selection on the basis of faith
Faith schools should be for the benefit of all in society rather than just
some. If faith schools are convinced of their relevance for society, then
that should apply equally for all children. With state funding comes an
obligation to be relevant and open to all citizens.
2. Children should have a greater say in how they are educated
Children’s rights are as important as parents’ rights. While the debate
about faith schools is characterized by discussions of parental choice of
education, there is little discussion about children’s voice.
3. RE should be part of the core national curriculum
Provision for learning about religion is too often poor in schools without
a religious character. Provision for learning about religions beyond that of
the sponsoring faith in faith schools is also inadequate.
4. Faith schools should also serve the most disadvantaged
Despite histories based on challenging poverty and inequality, and
high-level pronouncements that suggest a mission to serve the most
disadvantaged in society, faith schools educate a disproportionately small
number of young people at the lowest end of the socio-economic scale.
5. Faith schools must value all young people
People cherish facets of their identities beyond their faith, and these also
need to be the focus of learning in faith schools – and valued within them.
Similarly, religious identities should be more highly valued within schools
that don’t have a religious character.
6. Faith should continue to play an important role in our education system
With these recommendations acted upon, faith schools should remain a
significant and important part of our education system, offering diversity
in the schooling system as a means of improving standards, offering choice
to parents and developing effective responses to local, national and global
challenges in education.

Previously: “No Jews or Muslims”