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Stop state funded schools selecting pupils on the basis of faith.

Comment 6th July 2010

 

All schools funded in part or in whole by the state should have to accept the vast majority of their pupils on the basis of proximity to the school, or better still on a ‘Fair Bands’ system.   The current system allowing state funded ‘Voluntary Aided’ schools to select their pupils on the basis of faith should be abolished.

Up and down the country, if the best local school is Voluntary Aided, you’ll find aspirational parents making a show of attending the relevant church from the arrival of their firstborn in an effort to get their kids into this school.  In many areas this has created a polarization of pupils between schools; the church schools have the advantage of educating children of predominantly informed and proactive parents, those informed and proactive parents who fail to get their kids into the local church schools tend either to go private or to move to an area where they can afford a home within the catchment of a good non-selective state school (expensive, but cheaper than going independent), leaving neighbouring non-selective schools to struggle to provide a high standard of education without the advantage of having predominantly informed and proactive parents which the faith schools enjoy.  The local non-church schools therefore are attended by a disproportionate number of pupils who don’t come from families with such social capital, including those from ethnic minorities, refugees / new entrants to the UK, children for whom English is an additional language (EAL) and those with parents who aren’t informed enough about education to make an active choice about where their children are educated.  It is self evident that at a certain level of complexity, schools struggle to achieve the best in outcomes.  Even ‘outstanding’ teachers struggle to ensure that every child in their class fulfils their potential when they have to cater for an extremely complex set of needs.  We end up with one extreme of state school with vastly differing value sets, learning needs and aspirations or ‘complex urban schools’; and then the other extreme type of state school, the local Voluntary Aided church school, which brim with the advantages of social capital.   Neither type of school offers a child a social experience that is rounded or representative of our diverse country. 

Finland’s education system has no selection at all (not even independent schools exist); they have their share of poverty and other social problems and with a fully comprehensive school system they achieve outstanding results. Teaching children in accordance with their parents’ religious views in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights does not mean that children of parents with other beliefs should be discriminated against by being excluded from such education. 

The Coalition Government have promised they “will work with faith groups to enable more faith schools and facilitate inclusive admissions policies in as many of these schools as possible.”   They need to take this further and ensure that all schools with any element of state funding will have to select pupils predominantly on the basis of proximity to the school or on the basis of fair banding (which ensures that the school’s pupils are a representative mixture of the abilities of the population).  

If a school wants to select any of its pupils on the basis of faith, then it should be wholly independently funded and not take any kind of state subsidy.   Why should the state be funding schools that select children on this basis?  It would be more ‘Christian’ for a school to support and educate its direct neighbours.

Why does this matter?

It will improve academic results, behaviour and aspirations a for millions of children who currently attend complex urban schools.  It will improve the social experiences of children who currently attend single faith schools, thus improving social understanding and cohesion.  


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