Suffolk County Council has voted to end religious discrimination for admissions to 35 Church of England schools. Local authorities set the admissions policies for some faith schools, known as voluntary controlled schools, and around a quarter of local authorities allow these schools to religiously select who they admit. At a recent Suffolk Cabinet meeting it was decided that from 2023, if one of these schools is oversubscribed, priority will no longer be given to the children whose parents attend regular church services.
Humanists UK, which has long campaigned for an inclusive education system free of religious bias, has welcomed this development. Discrimination on grounds of religion is unfortunately common in England’s faith schools: UK law currently permits schools with a religious character to select anywhere up to 100% of pupils on faith grounds. Not only is it grossly unfair to treat children differently according to the faith of their parents, but the practice can perpetuate economic and social divides.
Furthermore, it can lead to parents perversely exaggerating the extent of their religious observance in order to secure a place in a specific school, and children from non-religious backgrounds are often put to the very back of the queue for places. And in October 2020, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator acknowledged that a policy requiring ‘weekly’ worship could put families off applying.
Suffolk’s new policy is likely to be popular with parents – their own polling found that 68% of respondents, mostly parents, agreed with the change. This is broadly in line with attitudes across the UK: three quarters of parents disagree with religious selection in state-funded schools.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann said:
‘A requirement to attend worship to secure a state school place is both unreasonable and increasingly at odds with the reality of a growing non-religious population. Children should not have opportunities denied to them simply due to the religious observance or otherwise of their parents. We therefore welcome this move from Suffolk County Council, and urge other local authorities throughout England to take note and follow suit.
‘While local reform like this is to be applauded, it is high time the Government took action, and did away with religious selection in schools for good. Most of the British public, including a majority of religious people, think religious selection shouldn’t be allowed. All of our state-funded schools should be fully inclusive and open to all regardless of background.’
For further comment or information, contact Humanists UK Education Policy Researcher Dr Ruth Wareham at email@example.com or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.
Read the minutes of Suffolk’s cabinet meeting.
Read Humanists UK’s Manifesto for inclusive schools.
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.