Faith schools face admissions curb

Faith schools are increasingly unable to select pupils based on religious grounds due to the current admissions rules.

The current rules, which were introduced in 2007, require schools to explain how they will judge potential pupils’ religious adherence.

Mike Judge of The Christian Institute said: “We’ve got a bizarre system in which secular organisations are dictating how religious bodies can identify who is and isn’t religious.

“We know there are many parents who are very keen to have their child go to a faith school despite not being of that faith, so schools need some flexibility within the system to decide who is religious. You can’t fit religion into some very convenient Whitehall check-list.”

Over the past six months more than 30 faith schools have been investigated after they were accused of breaking the admissions guidelines by selecting the most religious pupils.

An Anglican school in Liverpool was criticised for asking parents to “support” their child’s attendance at Christian assemblies and religious education.

While other faith schools that asked parents to sign a Christian ethos form were deemed to have broken the selection rules.

In June critics called for faith schools to lose the right to select pupils and staff who share the school’s religious ethos.

However, the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer Revd Janina Ainsworth said: “Their proposals to strip faith schools of the right to use any faith-based admissions criteria would dilute a key ingredient that can help to make these schools distinctive, popular and successful.”

Rev Ainsworth has also rejected claims that faith schools could be stripped of their religious ethos and still remain popular.

She said: “Some seem to believe that the Christian ethos, which is so valued by parents, is like a sort of magic dust that is sprinkled on church schools simply by association.

“But it is, in fact, achieved through the hard work of staff and governors in building a learning community that is underpinned with Christian values.”

The Government insists that faith schools retain the power to select pupils along religious lines, but warn that the admissions rules shouldn’t place “excessive” or “intrusive” expectations on families.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: “Whist we support faith schools’ right to choose children of the same faith where they are oversubscribed, they must do this through strict rules to ensure that the expectations on families are not excessive or the information gathered not too intrusive.

“For example a school can ask for a letter from a priest confirming they attend church, but cannot interview them to ask more detailed questions about their level of commitment to the faith. We believe this is a fair balance between supporting faith schools and being fair to parents.”

Last year faith schools dominated a new league table of England’s best primary schools.

Almost two-thirds of the 268 schools which achieved “perfect” SATs results last summer were Anglican, Roman Catholic or Jewish schools.

While a report released last November revealed that secondary schools run by faith groups are better at building community cohesion than secular schools.

It found that secondary schools run by faith groups scored eleven per cent higher for their promotion of community cohesion when compared with secular schools.

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