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Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Church of England and School Admissions

Back in 1988, as the parent of a child soon to start school, I sat down to read the brochure sent to me by East Sussex County Council listing the schools from which you could Choose.

In fact, there was very little choice. Most of them were in the hands of the Church of England or the Roman Catholic church and the school descriptions consisted largely in elaborate sets of discriminatory and exclusionary admissions criteria. There was no beating about the bush: first preference to their own lot of believers, second preference to those from other Christian denominations, third preference to disabled pupils, fourth preference to non-Christian religions, fifth preference to local pupils, and so on.

As the child of unbelievers, my daughter was welcome nowhere - except, fortunately, in the non-denominational local primary school, a rarity in East Sussex.

I was genuinely appalled. I had never seen such crude discriminatory thinking paraded - and in a public document about publicly-funded institutions. So I wrote a piece in the Times Educational Supplement naming and shaming the schools with the most contorted admissions policies. They didn't like me for it and I got some cross letters. ("No Choice for the Wicked", Times Educational Supplement, 19 February 1988)

But the schools had nothing to fear. Their bigotry fitted in perfectly with the needs of aspirational middle class parents. Under New Labour, the schools were encouraged and the parents got the selective schooling they wanted - selective not on the basis of merit but on the basis of professions of religious faith. It would be hard to think of a more reactionary education policy than that pursued by New Labour and now thoroughly consolidated.

Today, the newspapers carry the story that the head of the Church of England's Education Board, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard wants to cut to ten percent the number of places reserved for practising Anglicans in the C of Es Voluntary Aided Schools.

Well, of course, the C of E does have a problem with numbers. There aren't many practising Anglicans left and those that are left include all the middle class hypocrites pretending to do God in order to get their kids into a Nice School. But I still don't think the Bishop of Oxford will get his way.

The Squeezed Middle doesn't believe in social mobility and it doesn't believe in equality of educational opportunity either. Socially Selective Schools, paid for from general taxation, are one of the Benefits they have come to expect.

1 comment:

  1. There is, of course, another side to the argument. A faith school – whether Christian, Muslim or whatever – inevitably promote its beliefs, through the bias of both its teaching and practice. If a parent doesn’t have those beliefs then, on the face of it, it doesn’t make sense to send their child to such a school. At this point the debate becomes clouded by other issues. Is equality and freedom to choose more important than integrity of belief? Why should an honest non believer be denied a place in favour of a hypocritical non believer?

    There’s logic in saying that faith schools should give priority to believers, with spare capacity going to other locals. It could be added that, since - in the case of church schools - the local parish church normally makes a contribution to the costs of the school, its fair that parishioners who regularly make a substantial contribution to the life and budget of the local church should be first in line for the benefits of its education. The latter point, in particular, will be a source of resentment to the Bishop’s proposal.

    The whole issue generates so much strong feeling because education at a church school is a passport to a good education for the middle class. A fundamental question that the Bishop should – but won’t – ask is why the Church of England is really no more than the Church of upper and middle class England. If working class intake to the Church - and consequently Church schools - were to increase, a place in these schools would become less of a prized asset.