Following an announcement made by the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan last month that she plans to ban charities and other civil society organisations from formally raising concerns about the admission arrangements of schools, members of both the House of Commons and House of Lords have moved to robustly challenge the proposal and demand that it be scrapped. Since the announcement was made by the Education Secretary, who explicitly described the ban as an attempt to ‘stop vexatious complaints against faith schools by secularist campaign groups’, nearly 40 questions have been tabled in Parliament by MPs and peers from a range of parties, many of whom have joined more than a thousand people around England in writing to the Department for Education (DfE) about the issue.
The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has also written to Nicky Morgan warning that parents and children ‘will be the only ones to lose out should this proposed change go ahead’, has repeated its calls for the policy to be withdrawn.
In what represents a thinly veiled attack on the BHA, the proposed ban is primarily a response to a report published by the BHA and Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) last year revealing a widespread failure to adhere to the School Admissions Code by religiously selective schools. The report, entitled An Unholy Mess: How virtually all religiously selective schools are breaking the law, detailed the rulings of the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) on the admission arrangements of a small sample of religiously selective schools, and found widespread violations of the Code in every case, adding credence to long-held concerns that parents are being denied fair access to state schools due to the cynical way in which religious selection is carried out by some ‘faith’ schools.
Disappointingly, the Government has largely chosen not to engage with the very real concerns about the proposal expressed by parliamentarians and parents, and instead has almost invariably produced vague and deflective answers in response to their questions. For instance, specifically challenged by Baroness Meacher on the question of how the BHA and FAC’s objections, almost all of which were upheld by the Adjudicator, could be described as ‘vexatious’, the Government simply repeated its announcement and stated that ‘The Department will conduct a full public consultation in due course and will give careful consideration to all the views expressed in that consultation.’
As well as Baroness Meacher, parliamentary questions have been tabled by Lord Harrison, Baroness Lister, Baroness Massey, Viscount Ridley, Jeff Smith MP, and Lord Warner, and a number of other parliamentarians have also sent letters to the DfE.
The response from the wider public against the move has been just as strong, and the last few weeks have seen over 1,500 people write either to their local MP or directly to Nicky Morgan, expressing their concern that the ban will only lead to an admissions system that is less transparent and in which parents feel less supported. Mumsnet Chief Executive Justine Roberts has also spoken out along similar lines, stating that ‘preventing interested groups from making representations about perceived imperfections of the system doesn’t feel like a particularly constructive way forwards. If anything, it’s likely to add to parental dissatisfaction.’
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘It isn’t surprising that the response to the Government’s proposal on this issue has been overwhelmingly negative. Our report revealed not only that unfairness and injustice is rife in the school admissions system, but also that there is a pervasive lack of transparency and accountability too. The Government’s move to defend the appalling record of religiously-selective schools rather than uphold the rights and fair access of parents and children is therefore utterly bizarre, and really makes a mockery of their claim that they are on the side of families. We will continue to push the Department for Education to drop the proposal, and we hope they will carefully consider the concerns that both parliamentarians and members of the public have expressed.’
For further comment or information, please contact BHA Faith Schools and Education Campaigner Jay Harman on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7324 3078.
Read all the parliamentary questions that have been tabled on this issue so far: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/List-of-PQs-tabled-on-admissions-objections-ban.pdf
Read the BHA’s letter to the Secretary of State: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016-01-28-Letter-from-the-BHA.pdf
Read the Department for Education’s press release announcing the proposed ban: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/parents-to-get-greater-say-in-the-school-admissions-process
Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Government moves to ban organisations from exposing law-breaking schools unfairly restricting access to children and parents’: https://humanists.uk/2016/01/25/government-moves-to-ban-organisations-from-exposing-law-breaking-schools-unfairly-restricting-access-to-children-and-parents/
Read the BHA’s comment piece in the Independent ‘Is Nicky Morgan on the side of children or faith organisations’: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/is-nicky-morgan-on-the-side-of-children-or-faith-organisations-a6837811.html
Read the BHA/FAC report ‘An Unholy mess: How virtually all religiously selective schools are breaking the law: https://humanists.uk/2015/10/01/an-unholy-mess-new-report-reveals-near-universal-noncompliance-with-school-admissions-code-among-state-faith-schools-in-england/
Read the FAC’s briefing on the report: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/anunholymess-briefing/
The Fair Admissions Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.
Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.