The 50% cap on religious selection in free schools. Who’s for keeping it, and who’s for lifting it?

Opposed to the 50% cap

The Catholic Education Service for England and Wales has boycotted the free schools programme since 2010, refusing to set up any new free schools under the 50% cap.

Board of Deputies of British Jews, while noting the diversity of opinion within the Jewish community on this issue, has similarly stated that the 50% cap has prevented more Orthodox Jewish free schools from opening.…/Justine-Greening-letter-on-faith-cap-26072016-2.pdf

In favour of keeping the 50% cap

Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Ofsted: ‘Admission 100% on faith leads to increased levels of segregation within communities’. I am uncomfortable with anything that leads to increased segregation’

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan: ‘The government should not be bringing forward measures that make integration less likely.’

London’s Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement, Matthew Ryder QC: ‘The mayor and I share the view that it is imperative that every effort is made to encourage people of different backgrounds to mix as much as possible, and this is true in our schools as it is in workplaces and communities. We are therefore concerned that the Government’s proposals to remove the 50 per cent cap for religious free schools could represent a threat to the drive to pursue greater integration in our schools.’

Sutton Trust: Lifting the 50% cap is ‘likely to make [faith schools] even more unrepresentative of their local areas, reducing the number of good school places available to pupils across the socio-economic spectrum. The admissions process for faith schools should instead be opened up so that their admissions are fairer and begin to reflect their local population’.

Education Policy Institute: ‘If the objective of government policy is to increase social mobility, this policy intervention is unlikely to be effective.’

Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE): ‘Concerns remain over proposals to remove the 50% cap on the number of children admitted to schools on religious grounds in new and current faith schools, on the basis that it will entrench segregation and undermine community cohesion…The 50% cap on the number of children admitted to schools on religious grounds should remain in place for new and current faith schools.’

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary, National Union of Teachers: ‘If in our society we want children of different faiths to be educated together as part of building a good society, then all schools should be open to some children at least, of all faiths.’

Association of Teachers and Lecturers: ‘[The Education Policy Institute’s] report is timely, adding crucial and up-to-the-minute evidence to the wealth of existing research which challenges the government’s politically driven assertion that increasing the number of faith schools will increase social mobility.’

Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson, Lord Storey: ‘the abolition of the 50% cap in our faith schools will mean that even more of our children will be separated and segregated by their religion’. He argued instead for ‘an open education system that does not segregate any pupil because of their ability or their faith—a system in which no child is left behind’.

Labour’s Shadow Education Spokesperson, Lord Watson: ‘[T]he Government want to facilitate a policy that will harden the divisions between children by ensuring that those not of a certain faith will be shut off from their neighbours and friends…Walls are dismantled by people coming together, not by keeping them apart. Further selection on the grounds of faith will lead to more pupils being discriminated against.’

Green Party: Party policy states that ‘there exists a range of inequality within our education system. This can often stem from unfair admissions processes, particularly in private schools, grammar schools, faith schools, free schools and academies. These processes often serve to work against the most disadvantaged young people in our society (such as those from poorer backgrounds or ethnic minorities). In order to provide an equal opportunity for all young people then admissions must be as balanced and fair as possible.’ Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas also wrote to the Prime Minister in November 2017 urging her ‘not to proceed with the proposal to abolish the limit which prevents faith-based free schools selecting more than 50% of pupils on religious grounds.’ and

Professor Ted Cantle, Institute for Community Cohesion Foundation:  ‘the evidence is unequivocal. Religious selection in school admissions is utterly deleterious for integration. And not just for religious integration, but for ethnic and socio-economic integration too…the more diverse our society becomes, the more integrated it needs to be, and if there is anyone around who is prepared to honestly say, with their hand on their heart, that single-faith, mono-cultural schools represent part of the solution rather than part of the problem, I sincerely hope they do not have the ear of the Government.’

British Muslims for Secular Democracy is a member of both the Fair Admissions Campaign and the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, which campaign against removing the 50% cap and for an end to religious selection in school admissions altogether.

Ekklesia, Christian think tank: ‘To take large amounts of taxpayers’ money and use it to deny some children entry to publicly-funded schools because they are from the ‘wrong’ belief background, offends natural justice in a plural society. Excluding pupils because of their faith background or lack of it, or putting parents into a position where they have to lie about their beliefs to get their children into a school with limited places: such things are not ‘Christian’, they are morally wrong.’

National Secular Society: ‘Facilitating more religious segregation in faith schools can only harm social cohesion.’

Rabbi Jonathan Romain, Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education: ‘At a time when social cohesion is needed more than ever, the Tories’ pledge to ghettoise religious schools is shocking…If the Government really values children knowing each other better, then why not have them in class together?’

Fair Admissions Campaign: ‘This move takes the education system in entirely the wrong direction, at a time when we should be encouraging more integration not less.’

Department for Education, January 2016: ‘the requirement for all oversubscribed faith free schools to make at least 50% of their places available to those of another or no faith helps to tackle segregation and ensures young people will experience the diversity of religious beliefs that make up modern Britain.’

67% Catholics responded to a May 2017 poll by stating their preference for new faith schools to continue operating under the current 50% cap  on religious selection. 80% of the population as a whole also prefer to keep the cap.

Humanists UK:Bizarrely, rather than celebrate the evident success of a policy it helped to introduce, the Government has chosen to massage the figures in a way that misleadingly presents the cap as a failure. This…champions the will of the religious lobby over the better interests of children.

‘The pretence of a religious objection appears to be an insidious political tactic to try to force through a policy change favourable to the Catholic Church but unpopular with the public and incredibly detrimental to integration and fairness in the education system.’

The consensus is clear. #keepthecap

Faith schools by stealth

Following the report on ‘faith schools by stealth’ published by investigative journalist Warwick Mansell last month, we reflect on the worrying rise of surreptitious religious influence in one of the UK’s largest academy chains and the wider problem of ‘faith ethos’ academies and mixed multi-academy trusts.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the proliferation of academies and free-schools has given rise to a do-as-you-like culture within the education system. There has been much literature written on the issue of the autonomy enjoyed by academies and free schools, but in short, these types of school have tended to use the autonomy afforded to them as an excuse for a lack of transparency, something which regrettably has gone largely unchallenged. This is seen no more clearly than in the arrangements for ‘faith ethos’ academies – both unfortunate by-products of academisation.

The problem with ‘faith ethos’ academies is that, although they are not legally registered as having a religious character, they are nonetheless run by an organisation with a religious ethos. These organisations can then use their religious character to influence and exert control over aspects of the governance, employment, and curriculum policies of the school.

Mansell, like Humanists UK before him, draws attention to one such chain of ‘faith ethos academies’, Oasis. Despite the organisation having a clear Christian ethos, the academies are not formally registered with the Department for Education (DfE) as religious schools. Official documents reveal that Oasis is:

‘motivated by the life, message and example of Christ’.

One ex-Oasis school governor, described the organisation as a ‘faith school by stealth’, whereby he was expected to ‘police the ‘Christian values’ of Oasis, making sure they were ‘permeating through the school’.

This type of back-door religious influence is absolutely unacceptable, and it raises some serious concerns around democracy and freedom of choice. It is a testament to just how permissive our education system has become to religious influence, and has only been made possible through academisation.

Schools should be obliged by the DfE to provide an accurate description of their ethos, religious or otherwise, providing parents and guardians with the information needed to make an informed decision on what type of school they would like their child to be educated in. To not provide parents with accurate information on a school’s religious ethos is tantamount to infringing on their freedom of choice. That’s not to mention that a third of state-funded schools are already faith schools – troubling enough without organisations like Oasis, the third-largest academy sponsor in the UK, operating clandestine religious schools.

Unfortunately, organisations like Oasis are not the only worry when it comes to ‘faith ethos’ academies. Mixed multi-academy trusts (MATs) also have very dubious policies around their religious character and influence in governance, employment, and the curriculum.

Mixed MATs are the result of a less than harmonious union between schools with no religious character and religious schools. The rules of the union can assign more than half (and at least 25%) of trustee control to the religious organisation involved in running the religious school (ordinarily a diocese), regardless of whether the number of schools with no religious character is greater than those with a religious character. Ridiculous, right? This means the schools with no religious character can effectively become run by a religious organisation.

‘Faith schools by stealth’ are being imposed on whole communities, parents, and young people without their informed consent, and remarkably this is breaking no laws. The DfE needs to urgently review its current educational policies. Parents and young people deserve transparency and openness when choosing a school and this back-door religious influence cannot continue to go unchecked.

FSA staff