BHA: Government moves to ban organisations from exposing law-breaking schools unfairly restricting access to children and parents

From the British Humanist Association, 25 January:

Following a report published by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) last year revealing that almost every religiously-selective school in England is breaking the law, the Education Secretary has announced she now plans to ban groups and organisations from officially raising concerns about the admission arrangements of schools. In a thinly veiled attack on the BHA, the ban, which was first suggested by a variety of religious organisations in a meeting with Department for Education (DfE) officials last year, is specifically targeted at ‘secular campaign groups’, according to Nicky Morgan. The BHA has described the proposal as an ‘affront to both democracy and the rule of law’, stating that it will allow religiously selective schools to continue abusing the system and unfairly discriminate against a huge number of children in the process.

Under current rules, any citizen or civil society organisation is allowed to lodge an objection with the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) if they believe a school has failed to comply with the School Admissions Code. In the absence of a body actively enforcing compliance with the Code, these objections from parents, local authorities, charities, and other organisations, represent the only impartial means of ensuring that schools adhere to the law and do not attempt to manipulate their intakes.

Despite this, the Government is now proposing to prohibit organisations from lodging objections with the OSA, largely in response to a joint BHA/FAC report published last year. The report, entitled An Unholy Mess: How virtually all religiously selective schools are breaking the law, detailed the rulings of the OSA on the admission arrangements of a small sample of religiously selective schools, finding widespread violations of the Code in every case. These violations acted to prevent parents from gaining fair access to state schools and the consequent rulings added credence to long-standing concerns about the cynical way in which religious selection is carried out in ‘faith’ schools. These concerns were widely shared by parents and clearly indicated that more needs to be done to enforce the Code, not less.

The Education Secretary’s comments represent the first time Nicky Morgan has confirmed her plan to push ahead with the ban, stating: ‘we are ensuring only local parents and councils can object to admissions arrangements, which will also put a stop to vexatious complaints against faith schools by secularist campaign groups’. The Government have stated that they plan to launch a consultation on the proposals in the next few months.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘We all need to be clear about what is happening here. A near-universal failure to adhere to the law in a particular area has been identified. Instead of moving to enforce the law, the Government has responded by planning to make it harder to identify future violations of it. This is an affront to both democracy and the rule of law. It will reduce parents’ fair choice of state schools in the interests of the religious organisations that run them at taxpayers’ expense and demonstrates the Government is more interested in concealing the appalling record of religious schools manipulating their intakes than it is in addressing the serious problems this causes.

‘The report we published last year was provoked by the high volume of requests for help we receive every year from parents who are victims of the unfair system, and it revealed that a huge number of children are being unfairly denied places at their local schools due to the abuse of the admissions system by religiously-selective schools. Any restrictions on who can object will not only allow this to continue, it will encourage it by drastically reducing the accountability of the admissions process. The Government is due to consult on this draconian intervention in the next few months, and we will certainly be encouraging everyone who believes in a fairer, more transparent, and less discriminatory education system to respond and oppose the proposals.

‘In the past, civil servants from the Department for Education have often welcomed, indeed encouraged, ours and others’ exposing of schools that are frustrating Government policy by unfairly and unlawfully restricting parental access to and choice of state schools. This sudden change of attitude will be to the detriment not just of transparency in a vital public service, but also to the whole of society, and in particular to parents and children, in whose interest the publicly funded education system should surely be run.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact BHA Faith Schools and Education Campaigner, Jay Harman, on jay@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3078.

Read the BHA/FAC report An Unholy Mess: How virtually all religiously selective schools are breaking the law: https://humanism.org.uk/2015/10/01/an-unholy-mess-new-report-reveals-near-universal-noncompliance-with-school-admissions-code-among-state-faith-schools-in-england/

Read the FAC’s briefing on the report: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/anunholymess-briefing/

Particularly notable findings of the report include:

  • Almost one in five schools were found to require practical or financial support to associated organisations – through voluntary activities such as flower arranging and choir-singing in churches or in the case of two Jewish schools, in requiring membership of synagogues (which costs money).
  • Over a quarter of schools were found to be religiously selecting in ways not deemed acceptable even by their relevant religious authorities – something which the London Oratory School was also found guilty of earlier this year.
  • A number of schools were found to have broken the Equality Act 2010 in directly discriminating on the basis of race or gender, with concerns also raised around discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and socio-economic status.
  • A majority of schools were found not to be sufficiently prioritising looked after and previously looked after children (LAC and PLAC) – in most cases discriminating in unlawful ways against LAC and PLAC who were not of the faith of the school, and in a few rare cases not prioritising LAC and PLAC at all. A quarter of schools were also found to not be making clear how children with statements of special educational needs were admitted.
  • Almost 90% of schools were found to be asking for information from parents that they do not need. This included asking parents to declare their support for the ethos of the school and even asking for applicants’ countries of origin, whether or not they speak English as an additional language, and if they have any medical issues.
  • Nearly every school was found to have problems related to the clarity, fairness, and objectivity of their admissions arrangements. This included a lack of clarity about the required frequency of religious worship and asking a religious leader to sign a form confirming religious observance, but not specifying what kind of observance is required.

The Fair Admissions Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

‘There is a threat to British values – the British government’

I am including this to raise awareness of the issue. The new Government is undertaking laws against freedom of speech. Given that this government is committed to promoting ‘faith’, it’s not too difficult to see that those who criticise religion can easily be labelled ‘extremist’. Unlike most democracies, we don’t have a constitution and a court that can rule such laws unconstitutional.

Caroline Lucas MP writes: A Conservative government has been in power for less than a week, and already our fundamental human rights are under threat.
It has been announced today that the Queen’s Speech will contain plans for banning orders intended to limit the “harmful activities” of extremists. The detail of the plans are chilling.
They are part of a strategy to promote “British values” including freedom of speech and democracy, yet they’ll actually prevent people from exercising those very values. According to the proposals, anyone who undertakes activities that cause harassment, alarm or distress, could be faced with a high court order requiring them to submit anything they plan to publish online, in print, or even on social media, to the police.
That means actions like placing 200 body bags on the beach in my constituency of Brighton Pavilion, as Amnesty International did last month, could be prevented, and Amnesty subjected to police censorship. That act was distressing because it brought home the reality of the suffering endured by migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. But it was also powerfully important in raising awareness, and encouraging moves to prevent further tragedies.
The planned banning orders for “extremists” are particularly concerning. They are intended to hit not only organisations that incite hatred on the grounds of gender, race or religion, but also those who seek to “undermine democracy”. Does that mean campaigners like the Electoral Reform Society, who call for an overhaul of our democratic systems as they stand, could be outlawed? The phrasing is simply too vague to rule it out.
The national extremism database currently includes the names of people who have undertaken such “extreme” activities as organising meetings on environmental issues. That suggests people like me, who push for strong action on climate change, could be outlawed if we so much as come together to plan a protest. Read more…

Andy Lewis: Tory free schools plot to spin away the racism of Steiner schools

Rudolf Steiner’s depiction of the different intellectual characteristics of the races

Government denials of problems look misleading.

Last year, I wrote to my local MP, Lib Dem Tessa Munt, to raise concerns that the nearby opening of a state funded Steiner School raised a number of issues. Most importantly, that Steiner Schools are not open about the religious and occult nature of their philosophy and that this philosophy is based on an abhorrent racist view of human spirituality. Furthermore, children are likely to be exposed to pseudoscience, hidden spiritual agendas and nonsensical teaching philosophies.

Tessa Munt consulted with Education Minister, Lord Hill of Oareford, who today was promoted to Leader of the House of Lords, and wrote to me to say that “he would not have approved any school that raised concerns of the nature” I raised.  In short, what I was saying was untrue.

It has now come to my attention that Tory party strategists close to the Department of Education were well aware of the problematic nature of Steiner philosophies and discussed with the Steiner Waldorf Schools Federation ways of using PR to head off anticipated criticisms of new publicly funded Steiner Schools. It would appear that either Lord Hill, a former employee of Bell Pontinger,had been kept in the dark about these concerns and PR tactics or had misled my MP.

Read more at Andy’s blog

Humanism – news and action!

We have put a feed of news items from our national organisation, the British Humanist Association, in the left sidebar of this blog.

We urge all local humanists and secularists to read these. Clicking on the title of each item will take you to the BHA web site where you can read the news item in full.

Many of these items request help from the public, where a contribution can really make a difference in influencing the government, your MP or another body. As I write, the BHA is requesting supporters to respond to the schools admissions code consultation and to write to their MPs to make the case for secularism in contracting out government services.

Please read and act, and let us know about it, especially if you get a response.

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