Campaign launched against ‘grossly unfair’ faith school admissions in Oldham

24 May, 2021

A group campaigning for an end to ‘grossly unfair’ faith-based admissions in local schools has launched in Oldham. Fair Schools for Oldham, is calling for religious selection to be scrapped in all local schools. Humanists UK has been advising the group. It has welcomed the launch, saying it demonstrates the strength of feeling against discriminatory religious selection in the area.

UK law currently permits schools with a religious character to select anywhere up to 100% of pupils on faith grounds. Fairer Schools for Oldham says this is ‘an arbitrary and grossly unfair way to allocate school places; one that doesn’t belong in 21st century Britain.’ They are also concerned that ‘religious selection leads to discrimination on socio-economic grounds’, leading to poorer families taking up fewer places in selective faith schools in the area.

According to the most recent UK Government data, 40% of the schools in Oldham have a religious character. All of these are Christian. All three secondary schools in the area have admissions policies that allow them to select all their pupils on religious grounds. These include The Blue Coat CofE School which is ranked in the worst 1% for the proportion of pupils on free school meals and pupils with English as an additional language compared to the percentage of such pupils in the local area. There is also a new faith school opening, the Brian Clarke Academy, a Church of England school that is set to open in 2022. It will be run by the same multi-academy trust as The Blue Coat School. Fair Schools for Oldham notes that the school is being marketed as a ‘“multi-faith, multi-ethnic, inclusive school that will reflect the make-up of Oldham.” But children whose parents can prove they actively worship regularly [will be] eligible for more than twice as many places as those that don’t’.

As a free school, the Brian Clarke Academy can legally allocate half of its places by faith. As a result, it plans to prioritise 60 of its places for children from Christian backgrounds, with a further 60 for children from families who are ‘active members of one of the major world faiths, other than Christian’. Fair Schools for Oldham says this means children from faith backgrounds will be ‘massively overrepresented’ at the school. Such children will also be eligible for the places allocated on how close they live to one of three ‘geographical zones’. The group is also worried that a public consultation on the school’s admissions policy was ‘badly publicised’ and went ‘under the radar’ of most local parents. It says many of these parents ‘stand to miss out on a resource they so badly need if the school selects on faith’.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:

‘The launch of Fair Schools for Oldham shows the strength of local feeling against discriminatory faith-based admissions. But it is also indicative of a national problem, with the non-religious and those who don’t share the faith of their local schools regularly being put to the back of the queue for places.

‘Religious selection not only separates children by faith, but also by ethnicity and parental wealth. This means that disadvantaged children aren’t able to access a school place and the children who do attend faith schools are robbed of the chance to mix with children who come from different backgrounds.

‘The UK Government must listen to voices like Fair Schools for Oldham and take action to make sure all our schools are inclusive and open to all regardless of the faith or belief of their parents.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham at or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.

Visit the Fair Schools for Oldham campaign site.

Read our most recent article on the Ofsted survey that found 94% of parents say faith is not important when choosing a school.

Read our recent article on the UK Government ignoring calls to stop faith schools refusing to admit children in care.

Read our recent article on the Government announcement of more than £2 million in funding that will enable religious take-over of yet more schools.

Read more about our work on faith schools and religious selection.

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