The National Secular Society’s Keith Porteous Wood and Stephen Evans met with senior officials from the Department of Education’s admissions policy team last week to discuss concerns over religious schools ahead of the imminent publications of the new admissions code.
Stephen Evans, NSS Campaigns Manager, said; “while we’re more than happy to accept a simplified code, what we can’t accept is a weakened code that gives religious schools wiggle room to use backdoor selection to cherry pick children from more affluent families.”
There is clear evidence that the discriminatory admissions policies operated by some religious schools, in addition to being unfair, encourage social segregation and are detrimental to community cohesion.
New ‘free schools’ must take 50 per cent of pupils without reference to religion, but concerns were raised earlier this year when Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, told the Jewish Chronicle that, once the 50 per cent quota had been reached, new Jewish free schools would still be able to fill the remainder of places with Jewish children. The Department assured us there was no mechanism whereby this could be achieved. Officials at the Department assured us that the new admissions code would be at least as rigorous as the current code. It is open to question however, how many parents not of the faith would wish to send their children to a minority religious school.
A senior official of the Department’s extremism unit, who also attended the meeting, assured us that groups advocating creationism as a scientific theory, and those with values “inconsistent with British democratic principles” would automatically have any free school applications refused.
The NSS also raised concerns over proposals in the Education Bill that could spell the end of local admissions forums and a weakening of the powers of the Schools Adjudicator. While no agreement was reached, it was made clear that new proposals in the admissions code could go some way to increasing local accountability of schools in relation to admissions.
This was the first time the NSS has met with the Department since last year’s election and the meeting was very positive.