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said that a damning report commissioned by the Research and Information on State Education trust (RISE) was based on “out-of-date information that takes no account of the recent changes to the Admissions Code”…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