Tuesday, 10 March 2009

faith schools under pressure

For background to this, see TA articles from last September, here, here and here.

Last week, just prior to a conference of the Liberal Democrats, the Guardian published a letter, defending faith schools and in particular their selection policies, which had again been criticised earlier in the week in a new research report from Research and Information on State Education. (Full report as a PDF here.)

Banning selection of pupils by faith in religious schools would be “perverse and unjust”, a group of religious organisations which run faith state schools in Britain argue today.

In an exclusive letter published in the Guardian today, a cross-denominational group of religious leaders, led by the Church of England Board of Education, defends selection of some students and staff on the basis of commitment to their faith.

The letter comes ahead of a policy debate on 5-19 education in England at the Liberal Democrats’ spring conference tomorrow, which calls for a ban on selection by faith in religious schools, and follows a critical report by academics at the London School of Economics…

That critical report was attacked by the same leaders, see for example Religious Intelligence Church hits back at school admission policy claims by Matt Cresswell.

Janina Ainsworth, Chief Education Officer for the Church of England, said that a damning report commissioned by the Research and Information on State Education trust (RISE) was based on “out-of-date information that takes no account of the recent changes to the Admissions Code”…

…Commenting on the report Ms Ainsworth said that those with an agenda against popular church schools were using the research as “an opportunity to try and wrestle power from local people and further centralise admissions decisions.”

She continued: “The findings of this report do not support the recommendations made: nowhere does it present evidence that schools are breaking their own admissions policies to select certain types of students.

“It is unclear on what basis this report can obliquely claim that those local people who give their time freely as school governors are in some way acting unfairly.”

She added: “Church attendance is the only measure our schools use when allocating places on the basis of faith, and you can’t get a much simpler way of assessing whether someone has a faith commitment or not.”

As it turned out, the Lib Dem conference didn’t approve the original motion calling for a ban on selection, but did approve the following:

ii) Requiring all existing state-funded faith schools to come forward within five years with plans to demonstrate the inclusiveness of their intakes, with local authorities empowered to oversee and approve the delivery of these plans, and to withdraw state-funded status where inclusiveness cannot be demonstrated.

They also voted for:

iii) Ending the opt-out from employment and equalities legislation for staff in faith schools, except those responsible for religious instruction.

An attempt to extend iii) to also exempt ‘the senior management team’ was defeated.

The BBC therefore reported this as Lib Dems back state faith schools.

On the other hand Ekklesia which is a founder member of Accord reported it differently:
Liberal Democrats vote to demand fairness from faith schools
Lib Dem policy on faith schools is inclusion ‘breakthrough’
People of faith speak out for inclusive schools policy
Why church schools can be less than Christian by Jeremy Chadd

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 10 March 2009 at 10:06pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | News

In Sweden we have long and time honoured tradition of sending the children of the poor or landless to school.

Swedish history is full of shepheard boys becoming "men in the State", as poëtess Ann Maria Lenngren puts it in one of her famous poëms, The Ladds of 1797...

These latter years we too have gotten private schools for young children in vast numbers, (public money to be made) thanks to certain Free Church party and Immigration... and yes we have this discussion too - but only rather mildly, as yet ;=)

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 6:33am GMT

The phrase 'faith school' is being used for two very different things: the school run and staffed by people of a certain faith for people of that faith, which is by definition exclusive; and the school run by a particular religious group but open to staff and pupils of all faiths, which describes most CE VA and VC schools, and many independent schools as well. Should we not refrain from lumping them together under the same title?

In the appointment of staff, can a school not take into account the sympathy the candidate has for the ethos of the school? If not, how can a school retain its ethos, religious or otherwise?

Posted by: David Exham on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 11:58am GMT

Maybe because I am an American, I find it hard to understand why a school supported by tax money shouldn't be open to everyone. If a church (even mine) wants to found and fund a school, then OK, they may decide who can study there (though I wouldn't agree with that idea), but to use public money for a school open only to church goers (or whatever) boggles my mind.

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 3:12pm GMT

The phrase 'faith school' is being used for two very different things: the school run and staffed by people of a certain faith for people of that faith, which is by definition exclusive; and the school run by a particular religious group but open to staff and pupils of all faiths, which describes most CE VA and VC schools, and many independent schools

These are all separate from the schools supported by taxes from the general public?

What are VA and VC?

This is all very confusing to this Yank.

We have public schools, paid for usually through real estate taxes that are open to all who live in that taxing jurisdiction. This may include what are called 'charter schools,' which [I think] get tax money but are specialized in some way and may charge students' parents a permium. I'm hazy on this one, as there aren't any where I live.

Then there are private schools, religious or otherwise, that get no tax money and charge tuition.

Public schools are not to be the setting for religious instruction or overt religious practice. As one of my friends says, nothign can keep you from praying silently, and as long as schools have exams, this will flourish! You can also teach about religion in the context of history. There is some accomadation to religious practice - Jehovah's Witnesses and Friends are excused from the pledge to the flag, for example. Actual practice varies from community to community.

The third kind of kids education is home schooling.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 3:26pm GMT

This page may help to explain some the terms used e.g. VA and VC:


In particular:

Voluntary-aided schools
Voluntary-aided schools are mainly religious or 'faith' schools, although anyone can apply for a place. As with foundation schools, the governing body:
-employs the staff
-sets the admissions criteria
School buildings and land are normally owned by a charitable foundation, often a religious organisation. The governing body contributes to building and maintenance costs.

Voluntary-controlled schools
Voluntary-controlled schools are similar to voluntary aided schools, but are run by the local authority. As with community schools, the local authority:
-employs the school's staff
-sets the admissions criteria
School land and buildings are normally owned by a charity, often a religious organisation, which also appoints some of the members of the governing body.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 3:32pm GMT

There were church schools in Britain long before state schools. When state schools came in, the state nationalised church and other schools - our first step on the road to socialism - but left them some independence;hence the present anomalies. It is dangerous for education to be controlled by the state.

Posted by: james w on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 3:51pm GMT

Here is a fairly typical admissions policy for a CofE VA primary school:


To put this into some perspective, the previous year intake of 22 pupils included 17 who already had siblings in the school and none at all under criteria 5, 6 or 7.

See http://www.webexcel.com/stmichaels/Admissions/Historical_Admissions_Information_2.0.pdf for the full analysis.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 4:08pm GMT

"It is dangerous for education to be controlled by the state."

It is also very dangerous for education to be controlled by religious nutcases. Taliban, heck, I could name enough fundie extremists within a two hundred mile radius of my midwestern (USA) town.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 4:26pm GMT

Thank you, Simon! It all looks very confusing from this side of the pond, but I expect ours is equally opaque to you folks. I might note that home-schoolers come in all stripes: some do it because they want their offspring to have a religion-suffused education, most often along very conservative if not outright whacko, lines. Some are less suffused with religion but still want to teach creation "science" and the like. Others opt for home schooling when local public schools are not intellectually challenging enough or are just overall pooor quality.

There used to be a strong RC parochial school system, but since the 60s, they have shrunk because there are not enough nuns and brothers to teach, and often they are too poor to compete for lay teachers.

In Detroit, they were big in ethnic neighborhoods and were done in when the grandkids were fully asimilated and secularized and went to live in the suburbs.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 4:34pm GMT

Cynthia, "home schooling" is illegal here.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 6:06pm GMT

Schools used to be independant but State regulated.

These last years they have become communalized, which means the Superior National School Board controls less and Local Government more (for instance regarding funding, schools are no longer state funded, but get whatever Local Government cares to spend - which is less...)

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 6:16pm GMT

Here in the states home schooling is supervised differently from state to state and locality to locality. In some places there are fairly loose guidelines, in others, rather stringent ones. In some places, the local or state govt has to approve the home curriculum, in others not. Some school districts allow home-schooled kids to do some sports and after-school activities at the public schools - others do not. It's a real mishmash.

Personally, if I had kids, which I'venot, I would have them go to the local public school unless it was dangerous or so low in quality that it woould harm them. Then I'd look for a good private school that had diversity as one of its values.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 7:19pm GMT

The problem only arises when there are more people who want to send their children to your school than you have room for. (Unhappily when I was the headmaster of an independent school this didn't often happen!) C of E schools are often very popular (Why? important and interesting question.) If selection has to be made, is it done on the basis that those who want your school for what it actually offers should have some priority over those who don't care what you offer but think that you are a 'good school'? I see no easy way to resolve this.

Posted by: David Exham on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 7:44pm GMT

Let the State regulate, manage and pay for it, as we used to ;=)

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Thursday, 12 March 2009 at 5:34am GMT

Before, for instance the exams, "Student" after the Gymnasium; High Shool, were supervised by a Central (National) School Board.

This meant sending Censors; supervisors, out to each school giving an exam to supervise the quality of the Exams, and thus the quality of the School itself.

The questions were centrally produced each year. There were particular subjects and one "free".

Much like was done at University (but isn't any longer :-(

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Thursday, 12 March 2009 at 5:43am GMT

"I find it hard to understand why a school supported by tax money shouldn't be open to everyone."

This! When we joined Canada in '49, we had a strict denominational education system, and the Terms of Union enshrined that till the people of Newfoundland decided otherwise. It took two referenda in the '90s to get the Term changed, and the Roman and Pentecostal Churches fought it tooth and nail, making political bedfellows out of two groups who owuld have been running each other down to the dirt any other time. Over 90% of our population professes some Christian denomination or another, and Romans and Pentecostals together make up a good chunk of that. A sizable number of the population supported the change, which means many of those in favour were members of those two Churches, yet both of those Churches claimed "discrimination"! The old system was redundant and wasteful. I too see no reason why religious groups can't run their own schools how they like with their own funds. But publically funded schools are paid for by the public and should be open to the public, and should follow the public's rules.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 12 March 2009 at 12:26pm GMT

What underlies much of the discussion in the UK is a belief, vigorously expressed by some journalists, that "faith schools" are "middle class" schools: that parents "get religion" to get their kids into such a school.

I would suggest that much of this reflects the fact that journalists are overwhelmingly based in London - and certain parts of London at that - where there may be an element of truth in this. (e.g. Blair sending his sprogs across the city to the London Oratory school.) However, I would challenge those journos to recommend to me a church school here in Walsall with a wholly or mainly middle- class intake. The four nearest C of E schools to where I now sit are all firmly working-class. Even in parts of London, e.g. Hayes, where I used to go to church, church schools are overwhelmingly working-class.

BTW, it is by no means uncommon to find C of E schools where a majority of pupils are not Christians. I believe that the schools attached to Christ Church, Spitalfield (dio. London) and S. Saviour's, Saltley (dio. Birmingham) have over 90% Muslim pupils.

Posted by: Alan Harrison on Thursday, 12 March 2009 at 7:43pm GMT

The london op-ed writers used to attack 'faith schools' for 'indoctrination'. Clearly they've noticed that if we DO indoctrinate, we're not doing a very good job of it, since most of the kids never darken our doorsteps.

Time, therefore, to find another reason why St. Mungo's C of E Aided is whatever the secularist equivalent of Antichrist may be.... No doubt the London journos are all sending their offspring to the local primary without a moment's thought given to league tables.

FWIW my son is currently wondering how to find a primary school which will not force his child to mix with Daily Mail readers....

Posted by: mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) on Friday, 13 March 2009 at 4:10pm GMT
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