Church schools accused of stoking tension in Oldham race riot

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Two Church of England schools have been accused of aggravating racial tension and promoting segregation of students by discriminating against Muslim pupils.

The schools in Oldham, Greater Manchester, – the scene of recent violent racial disorder – are only admitting children who are regular churchgoers. At least one of their parents must also regularly attend church.

The practice is opposed by national leaders of the Church of England, who would like to see all its secondary schools representative of the communities they serve. In the case of Blue Coat Church of England school and Crompton House, both in Oldham, one in four of the town's young people are of Asian and mainly Muslim origin.

The admissions criteria have come to light after a report by Lord Dearing commissioned by the C of E and published last week called for an expansion in the number of church schools and called for all of them to reflect the areas they served.

Canon John Hall, general secretary of the C of E Board of Education, said: "Lord Dearing's view is that there are existing church schools that have an open and inclusive policy. They set aside a certain percentage of places in the school to be open to the whole community and insist that a proportion of pupils are admitted on that basis.

"The C of E would certainly accept that. We want to move to a position where all our schools are clearly Christian, and open and inclusive of the whole community."

David Bowes, headteacher of the 1,200-pupil Crompton House school, said the school had around 450 applications from parents for 180 places every year. "It is the most successful school in the area, with 77 per cent of pupils getting five A-star to C grade GCSE passes last year," he added.

"It's not that we would refuse to admit other faiths, it's just that with our criteria for admissions we'll never get to a point where we have vacancies for other faiths."

Ken Pleasant, headteacher of Blue Coat C of E school, painted a similar picture with around 450 parents pursuing 211 places. He pointed out that the school took in children from a wide area of Greater Manchester as neighbouring boroughs such as Rochdale and Tameside did not have any C of E secondary schools.

He added: "There is no financial element we take into account over admissions, there is no academic element over admissions. It is purely based on the attendance of the child-plus-one-parent at church."

Chris Berry, Oldham's Direction of Education and Leisure, said she was satisfied the admissions policies were "even handed and not discriminatory to any one non Anglican religion".

"Neither school refuses admission to Muslim children," she added. "But there are severe pressures for places at the schools and they have not been able to accommodate non-Anglican children for some years now. The schools' criteria are based entirely on religion and not race."

The National Secular Society warned last week that an expansion of church schooling would lead to racial conflicts.