Is Nicky Morgan on the side of children or faith organisations?

The Secretary of State may find it 'vexing' that religious lobbyists, whose long years of breaking the rules around admissions procedures, have now been challenged

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The Independent Online

Every week we at the British Humanist Association get floods of messages from parents who find themselves on the wrong side of the admissions process.

One mother who got in touch with us couldn’t get her son into any schools in her area as a result of the faith based admission arrangements of the schools nearby. The journey time between her child’s new school and home meant she couldn’t return to work. Unfortunately, situations like this are all too common. This is why parents rely on organisations like us to take up these cases for them.

Yet the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced that, at the urging of religious lobbyists, she plans to ban civil society organisations from formally raising concerns about the admission arrangements of schools.

In the absence of any public body monitoring compliance with the rules, she is reducing still further the extent to which schools can be brought to account. 

In a report published last year, we attempted to change this by lodging objections with the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) on the admission arrangements of a small sample of religiously selective schools, hoping we might be able to highlight the problems that have gone unaddressed for so long and which have led to so many children being unfairly denied places at their preferred schools.

Nicky Morgan has described the objections we made as ‘vexatious’ despite the fact that in almost every case our complaints were upheld by the OSA and the schools in question were found to be breaking the Admissions Code, which all schools are obliged to follow .

What part of rightfully exposing widespread illegality does the Education Secretary find ‘vexatious’ – or is it just vexing to a Secretary of State subjected to increasing pressure from the religious lobbyists whose long years of breaking the rules have now been challenged?

Without our successfully upheld objections, state schools would still be breaking the law by discriminating on race and gender and still be prioritising children on the basis of details of their parents’ sex lives or the financial or practical support that some parents are able to offer to their local church.  

More pertinently now, however, most schools would still be failing to publish their admission policies, either on time or at all, as is required by law, preventing parents from even being able to raise concerns about them in the first place. Shockingly, our report found that 85 per cent of schools were doing this. This system entrenches segregation, reinforces prejudice, and fails those whom an education system ought most to support – parents and children – as well as wider society.

Nicky Morgan is responding to a ‘guilty’ verdict by persecuting the accuser and protecting the wrongdoer. Her reported intentions demonstrate that the Government is more interested in concealing the appalling record of ‘faith’ schools manipulating their intakes than it is in addressing the serious problems this causes for parents. She claims she’s helping schools, what she’s really doing is protecting the self-interested religious organisations that control them at taxpayers’ expense – and hurting parents and children.

Pavan Dhaliwal is Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns at the British Humanist Association.