Some time back, the British Humanist Association and the Fair Admissions Campaign produced a report, since acknowledged by the Department for Education to be true, showing that a huge majority of religiously selective schools in England are breaking the law in their selection process.
The full report [pdf] is worth reading, but the BHA thoughtfully hit the high spots:
- Almost one in five schools were found to require practical or financial support to associated organisations – through voluntary activities such as flower arranging and choir-singing in churches or in the case of two Jewish schools, in requiring membership of synagogues (which costs money).
- Over a quarter of schools were found to be religiously selecting in ways not deemed acceptable even by their relevant religious authorities – something which the London Oratory School was also found guilty of earlier this year.
- A number of schools were found to have broken the Equality Act 2010 in directly discriminating on the basis of race or gender, with concerns also raised around discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and socio-economic status.
- A majority of schools were found not to be sufficiently prioritising looked after and previously looked after children (LAC and PLAC) – in most cases discriminating in unlawful ways against LAC and PLAC who were not of the faith of the school, and in a few rare cases not prioritising LAC and PLAC at all. A quarter of schools were also found to not be making clear how children with statements of special educational needs were admitted.
- Almost 90% of schools were found to be asking for information from parents that they do not need. This included asking parents to declare their support for the ethos of the school and even asking for applicants' countries of origin, whether or not they speak English as an additional language, and if they have any medical issues.
- Nearly every school was found to have problems related to the clarity, fairness, and objectivity of their admissions arrangements. This included a lack of clarity about the required frequency of religious worship and asking a religious leader to sign a form confirming religious observance, but not specifying what kind of observance is required.
You'd think that the government would be grateful to individuals and organisations who point out to them not only morally questionable misdemeanours, but blatant criminal actions. Because, let's be blunt, that—a crime—is what it's called when you or I break the law, isn't it. Why should a school's admission board be treated with the kid-gloves of euphemism?
But, no. "Grateful" would not appear to be the appropriate word. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan labelled the report "vexatious," and promptly introduced a proposed change to the law, such that only local councils or the parents themselves may report these crimes to the relevant authorities. And so, along with many others, I wrote to my shiny-new Tory MP—a depressingly party-line non-individual who seems to have no opinions of her own—using the BHA's handy form, to object to this fragrant abuse of rights and moral bankruptcy. And I got a reply; by snail-mail, no less, on an actual physical lump of dead tree. How quaint.
Thank you for contacting me about the proposed changes to the School Admissions Code.
The Government reforms will mean that only local parents and local authorities are able to object to a school's admission arrangements. Ensuring every child has access to a good local school is a vital part of ensuring educational excellence everywhere, as is freeing schools from bureaucracy wherever is possible. I recognise how time consuming the current system can be for a school, and I want parents to be confident that it also works for them.
Where a parent has concerns about the fairness of the admission arrangements of their local school, they should be able to refer those concerns to the Adjudicator, who can focus on them and not be held up by large numbers of objections from interest groups from outside the area which can clog up the system and slow down objections from concerned parents. There have been concerns that these groups are attempting to influence government admissions policy, rather than out of concern about the arrangements of a school which they wish their child to attend, and I think it is right that the Government is taking steps to address this.
This is a positive step, with many parents already referring objections to the Adjudicator, and under the new arrangements, there would be nothing to prevent a parent from seeking the support and advice of a relevant organisation in submitting an objection if they wished to do so. Local authorities also play an important role in ensuring that the admission arrangements of the schools in their areas are fair when considered collectively, so I agree with the Government's proposals on admission arrangements.
The Government proposals will be subject to a full public consultation and will require parliamentary approval and I am assured that my colleagues in Government will give these concerns careful consideration during the consultation process.
And so I've replied.
Dear Ms Pow
Thank you for your letter (your ref. RP/BM) regarding your support for proposed changes to the School Admission Code.
I do not agree that this is merely a matter of bureaucracy.
I would like to point out that many of the (already upheld) complaints which these changes would make impossible have been in regard to breaches of the law. That is to say, in everyday language, crimes. Breaking the law of the land is, after all, a crime, no matter whether the law in question be in regards to breaking-and-entering, driving whilst drunk or the admission of children into a school. These changes would, in matter of fact, disbar individuals and organisations from reporting crimes to the relevant authorities unless they have a personal interest. This would be equivalent to me not being allowed to report a car-theft, for instance, unless the car I'd witnessed being stolen was my own. I find the possibility of such restrictions worrying, both in this individual case of laws regarding school admissions, and in the wider sense of setting a precedent; and so I would like to ask for clarification.
Do you support a change in the law which would restrict certain people and organisations from reporting crimes?
I'm not particularly hopeful that I'll receive anything back bar a ritualistic form-letter, but, Gentle Reader, you never know. I'll keep you posted, so to speak.
You may use these HTML tags in comments
<a href="" title=""></a> <abbr title=""></abbr>
<acronym title=""></acronym> <blockquote></blockquote> <del></del>* <strike></strike>† <em></em>* <i></i>† <strong></strong>* <b></b>†
* is generally preferred over †