Faith schools increase segregation and favour the better-off

Janet Downs's picture
The Fair Admission Campaign, which wants every state-funded school to be open equally to all children irrespective of faith, has today launched an interactive map which shows which secondary schools are the most socio-economically and ethnically inclusive, and which ones select on the basis of faith, and the effect on  social and ethnic inclusiveness. (If the map needs a password, it is AdmissionsMap1.)  

It’s hoped that parents, schools and others will be able to use the map to find information about segregation in school admissions.  They will also be able to find out how many pupils at any school are eligible for free school meals (FSM) and compare this with the average for the local area, and how many speak English as an additional language (EAL), again compared to the local area.

It has been argued that faith schools help the disadvantaged because they are often based in poor areas. However the research shows that, across the country, faith schools have less children on free school meals and less with English as an additional language, than other local schools.

Key Findings include:

1         Comprehensive secondary schools with no religious character admit on average 11% more FSM pupils than would be expected given their locality.

2         Comprehensive Church of England (CoE) secondary schools which don’t select on faith admit 4% more FSM pupils than would be expected.  But those CoE schools that can select using faith criteria tend to admit 31% fewer.

3         Roman Catholic secondary schools admit 24% fewer FSM pupils than would be expected; Jewish secondaries 61% fewer and Muslim secondaries, 25% fewer.

4         16% of English state secondary schools select by religion but these are over-represented in the 100 worst offenders on FSM and EAL eligibility.  They comprise 46 of the worst 100 schools (and 67 out of 100 if grammar schools are excluded) on FSM eligibility and 50 of the worst 100 (55 if grammar schools are removed) on EAL.

5         The most segregated local authority (LA) as a result of religious selection is Hammersmith and Fulham.

There are some high-profile secondary schools which appear in the worst categories:

1         The Belvedere Academy, constantly upheld as an example of the “Open Access Scheme” which offered places at the Academy’s predecessor independent school on a means tested basis.  This was supposed to allow access to disadvantaged pupils.  But the Belvedere Academy, which doesn’t select on faith, is one of England’s most socially segregated schools ranked at 5th out of 3,323.

2         The London Oratory School, a Roman Catholic secondary boys’ school in Hammersmith and Fulham is another of the worst schools for FSM and EAL (ranked in 9th place).  The Schools Adjudicator has twice censured the Oratory for its admissions criteria in the last two years.  The Adjudicator said the criteria were so complicated they had to be explained.

3         Bristol Free School, which doesn’t select by faith, is among the worst 3% for FSM and worst 30% for EAL.  Its ranking is 105.

4         The West London Free School, which again doesn’t select by faith but does select 10% on aptitude for music, is in the worst 10% for FSM and the worst 3% for EAL.  Its position is 195 out of 3,323.  A Freedom of Information request revealed that WLFS had received £68,000 in donations from parents.  Schools which have more FSM pupils are unlikely to raise anything near this amount thereby increasing the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged schools.

The Fair Admission Campaign gives details about how to complain to the Schools Adjudicator if schools are not adhering to the legally-binding Schools Admissions Code.  Although the official objection period finished at the end of June, it is still possible to object by sending a “referral” to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator who will then decide whether to take up the complaint.

The Archbishop Blanch CofE Voluntary Aided High School, Liverpool, has just been censured via a referral for, among other things, not explaining to parents how they could meet the requirements for “involvement of the family in Church life beyond simple attendance at weekly worship”.   The Adjudicator found decisions about how the faith criteria could be met were left to individual clergy which could lead to inconsistent interpretations.

NOTE: The research combines data from five main sources and hundreds of admissions directories. The map details the proportion of pupils each school is allowed to religiously select in its oversubscription criteria; how many pupils at the school are eligible for free school meals by comparison with its local area; and how many speak English as an additional language, again compared with the local area.
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