State-funded schools are discriminating against non-religious families in their admissions policies, according to a new report by Humanists UK.
According to figures from the charity, some 40 per cent of faith schools prioritise the admission of children from religious families, including those who do not adhere to the school’s religion, over children from families with no religious affiliation.
What’s more, a third of state schools in the UK have a faith delegation. So this means a sizable number of children could be facing discrimination in accessing education.
How do Faith Schools’ Select Children?
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Britain stands out among other democratic states in its attitude to these discriminatory policies, and the issue has sparked controversy in recent years.
Faith schools are entitled to discriminate in their admissions policies as a result of exemptions provided for in the Equality Act (2010).
There are some conditions attached to this rule. For example, if a state school is undersubscribed it has to admit all children who apply, but an oversubscribed school may use faith criteria to decide who they admit.
Why Do Faith Schools Discriminate?
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Some faith schools argue that religious families have more in common with each other than non-religious families – even if the religions are different. By prioritising children from religious families, some faith schools argue, they are better able to maintain their mission and values.
The operation of faith-selective schools can be justified by Protocol 2, Article 2 of the Human Rights Convention which insists that the state shall respect the right of parents to access education that conforms with their own religious convictions.
The Opposition Is Stepping Up
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The Fair Admissions Campaign, which wants state-funded schools to be open to all children equally, argues that faith schools that do not operate an admissions policy based on faith are just as successful at maintaining their ethos. Therefore, discriminatory admissions criteria are unnecessary.
There are many reasons why a non-religious family might wish to send their child to a faith school, from the school’s academic performance to the location of the school. However, under existing rules, they could be prevented from enrolling.
In these instances, non-religious families are being discriminated against. This means that the faith schools that exclude non-religious families could be violating their Article 9 right to freedom of religion (which includes the right to not hold any religious belief) and their Article 14 right to not be subjected to discrimination.
The provision of religious education was established in Britain in order to protect individual religious freedoms. However, as non-religious campaigners call for all children to be given equal access to state-funded faith schools, it remains to be seen if faith-based admissions policies will continue for much longer.