A new report by the British Humanist Association, which campaigns to abolish faith schools, has found that a majority of such institutions fail to abide by admissions rules, often asking parents for more information about their religious backgrounds and affiliations than they are required by law to provide. That is clearly a matter of concern, although it appears that ignorance is at the heart of the problem, with many governors simply not understanding the current guidelines.
As a matter of principle, the existence of faith schools can divide opinion. Some contend it is anathema in a largely secular country that the state should fund places of education which have formal links to religion. Others point to the “Trojan horse” scandal in Birmingham as evidence of the potential for religious schools to become places of indoctrination, alienating one community from others and exposing children to extremism. Yet other critics argue that the ability of middle-class parents to “play” the selection system enables church schools to cream off the best pupils, dividing towns along socio-economic lines.
Nevertheless, it cannot be doubted that there remains an appetite for faith schools among a significant portion of the population. Indeed, around a third of all primary schools in the UK formally retain a religious ethos – almost all Christian-based – and there is little to suggest that number will drop dramatically in the near future.
Since changes were introduced by the former Education Secretary, Michael Gove, faith schools can – when over-subscribed – admit no more than 50 per cent of their pupils by reference to religious adherence. This perhaps goes to the crux of the matter, which is that all schools, whether faith-based or not, should encourage social inclusion and wider community cohesion. And that is why it is so important that admissions rules are both properly understood and faithfully followed.Reuse content