Virtually all faith schools in England are breaking the law over their admissions processes, a secular body has claimed in a new report.
The British Humanist Association (BHA) says that hundreds of thousands of children may have been unlawfully denied access to religiously selective schools across the country.
In its latest report on behalf of the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC), entitled ‘An Unholy Mess: how virtually all religiously selective state schools in England are breaking the law’, the BHA claims detailed the rulings of the Schools Adjudicator on the admission arrangements of a sample of such schools.
It found widespread violations of the School Admissions Code in almost every case.
The Code sets out legal rules that state schools must comply with when setting their admissions arrangements.
If schools are believed to have failed to comply, objections can be lodged with the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA).
This is what the BHA and FAC did for a representative sample of religiously selective secondary schools.
With all but one of the rulings now completed the OSA identified well over a thousand Code breaches, with near-universal non-compliance amongst schools.
The report claims this could equate to some 12,000 contraventions of the Code altogether across all religiously selective state secondary schools.
Some 1.2 million school places in England are subject to religious selection criteria.
Some specific problems included more than 90% of schools asking for information from parents that was not necessary as part of the admissions process. This included a child’s gender (which the report said was used to discriminate in two cases), asking about religious observance in a different or more detailed way than was required for the oversubscription criteria, requesting parents’ birth certificates and whether a child spoke English as an additional language.
One school was found to be directly discriminating on the basis of race in asking for a religious marriage certificate (which the report said was more easily available for those who are ethnically Jewish).
The report also noted lack of clarity, fairness and objectivity in admissions selection.
This included lack of clarity as to the required frequency and duration of religious worship required, schools requiring both parents to attend worship, or asking a religious leader to sign a form confirming that the parent and/or child was religiously observant, but not specifying what precisely this meant.
Other issues included over-emphasis on interviews and considering parents’ occupational or marital status.
The latest findings reopen the debate over state schools which select religiously.
The BHA argues that although parents have a right to bring up their children in whatever faith they so choose, they do not have a right to state funding for religious teaching or faith schools.
It claims that state schools should not be allowed to choose pupils on the basis of religion, discriminating in access to a public service that should be open to all.
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA, said: “Over a million state school places in England are subject to religious selection and it’s well known that religious schools have been abusing the admissions system for some time.
“Even so, no one can have imagined the problem was as widespread as this report shows.
“Of course, it’s a scandal to begin with that these schools are able by law to discriminate against children on the grounds of their parents’ religious beliefs, but the fact that they’re seeking to find further ways to turn children away is disgraceful.
“Religious selection by state schools is the archaic practice that allows these abuses and must be brought to an end.’