27 January 2014

Humanist Debate: Fair Admissions

My second debate with South West London Humanists took me in to familiar territory. Not that long ago I was on Kingston Council's Schools Admissions Forum, I was Chair of Governors of an LEA Primary School at the time, and the issue of faith schools came up there when a local boys' school wanted to become a C of E school and was denied (twice) by the Forum with me voting against both times.

The debate was led by Richard Thompson, a BHA Education Officer who is working on their Fair Admissions Campaign. He started off by giving us some information to explain the problem.

One third of. Schools are faith schools, circa17% of primary and 13% secondary applications are faith base. As an example,London Oratory has 9 different Categories of Catholic in their admissions policy, this is followed by other Christian groups then, er, nobody. Children cannot go to one Jewish school if have a TV in the house.

Some church schools maintain their ethos without a religious slant to their admissions.

The BHA opposes faith based admissions as segregation reinforces divisions. It also gives non-religious people less of a choice and, in some cases, no real choice at all. If you live in a village with just one school and it gives preference to, say, Christians then other people have no local school to go to.

Faith schools are state funded so this inequality is being done in our name as tax payers.

The BHA have produced a map of faith schools that show just how big the problem is.

Only three other countries allow religious selection, these are Ireland, Israel and Estonia. This is not a club that the UK can be proud of belonging to.

Some faith schools vastly skew intake when looking at the demographics of the local area, e.g. FSM or EAL.

Free Schools can only have 50% faith selection and the Government could easily make this apply to all schools. That would not completely solve the problem but would go a long way towards it and would be a relatively minor change of policy, i.e. something that politicians should be argue for easily.

The scene having been set we then had the debate, first in groups around our tables and then, having gathered our thoughts, we shared the main points with the whole room.

After pursuing several avenues, our table kept coming back to one basic principle, state-funded schools should not be allowed to select children on the basis of the alleged faith of their parents.

Other good points were made but we kept coming back to this one and there is a risk that by arguing against lots of little points in the schools' admissions policies that we win some of those but lose sight of the big one.

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