Church of England Schools should be opened up to pupils with no faith - and those from other religions - to create a more balanced intake, according to new guidance due to be issued to schools later this year.
Just 10 per cent of places at Church of England schools should be reserved for children from church-going families to stop them being turned into havens for "nice Christians", according to the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, chairman of the Church's Board of Education.
The move is likely to cause controversy with traditionalists arguing that such a move will water down the ethos of religious schools. In an interview with The Times Educational Supplement, Bishop Pritchard admitted the move could lead to a drop in school's results.
In 2006, Labour scrapped plans to force all new faith schools to reserve a quarter of places for pupils from other religions or atheist families after fierce opposition from Roman Catholics and other religious leaders.
But Bishop Pritchard said it was not the mission of the Church's 4,600 state schools to collect Christians into "huddles".
"I'm really committed to our schools being as open as they can be," Bishop Pritchard said. "I know that there are other philosophies that will start at the other end, that say that these are for our church families, but I have never been as convinced of that as others.
"Every school will have a policy that has a proportion of places for church youngsters. What I would be saying is that number ought to be minimised because our primary function and our privilege is to serve the wider community.
"Ultimately I hope we can get the number of reserved places right down to 10 per cent."
He added: "I don't think the mission generally is about collecting nice Christians into safe places. I think it's about releasing the gospel into the community and making a difference to people's lives.
"I want Christians to be out there serving the community in any way they can, not just collecting ourselves into huddles."
Currently, around half of England's Anglican schools are "voluntary-aided", meaning they control their own admissions policies. The remainder admit pupils through the local authority in the same way as conventional state schools.
Voluntary-aided schools can reserve places for children from Anglican families – and other Christian denominations – if they are oversubscribed. Some of the most popular schools have 100 per cent of pupils from churchgoing households.
Existing Church of England advice recommends that around a quarter of places at new Anglican schools are opened to children from the local neighbourhood, irrespective of religious background.
But Bishop Pritchard's comments go much further by calling on all schools to reserve 90 per cent of places to any child – keeping just 10 per cent for Anglican families.
The move is likely to be enshrined in official guidance being published by the Church later this year.
Although the guidelines will not be compulsory for voluntary-aided schools, it is likely to lead to a dramatic shift in attitudes towards admissions.
Prof Anne West from the London School of Economics, an expert on school admissions, said the guidance "could have the biggest impact on admissions to CofE schools in a generation".
"There will be quite a lot of concern at school level because it could drastically change the character of the schools in some cases," she told the TES.
Rev Clive Sedgewick, director of education for the dioceses of Bradford and Ripon and Leeds, said the Church "may be shooting" itself in the foot.
"Personally, I might suggest a third of places being reserved. There's a lot of debate to be had," he said. "There are parents that will see it as a retrograde step to have a higher number of non church attenders."
More on Parentdish:I'm not religious but my son goes to a church school.
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