Justin Welby urged to make church schools more inclusive

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has revealed he opposes schools selecting pupils by faith and wishes Church of England schools to be "homes and nurseries of integration" and have a "laser-like focus on the poorest and most deprived". The Archbishop has offered his opinions during a House of Lords debate on education that he sponsored earlier this month.

The comments follow publication last month of a report by Accord which found the Church of England (CofE) is failing to encourage its state funded schools to not religiously select pupils, despite claims by Church officials to the contrary. Over recent years, academic research has consistently found that religious selection by faith schools disadvantages children from deprived backgrounds.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said, "The Archbishop’s intervention on religious selection and the promotion of integration are to be welcomed by those who seek to ensure faith schools do not discriminate or create religious ghettos. However, to bring children together from different backgrounds – and indeed to better serve children from deprived families – Church of England schools require leadership from Church officials to move away from religious selection for good. We urge the Archbishop to follow his encouraging comments with sustained direction and support for the many of the Church’s schools that continue to operate a religiously discriminatory admissions policy".

Accord’s comments come on the same day that Accord member group Humanists UK have released a new study into religious selection at CofE secondary schools. Entitled ‘No Room at the Inn‘, the report finds that the number of places at the Church’s secondary schools that are subject to religious selection criteria has increased during the period Justin Welby has served as Archbishop.

Senior Church officials have previously expressed a desire for their schools to be more inclusive, but failed to deliver on their commitments. In 2006, the then Chair of the Church’s Board of Education, the Rt Rev Dr Kenneth Stevenson, committed to government that "all new Church of England schools should have at least 25 per cent of places available to children with no requirement that they be of practising Christian families". However, several CofE schools that subsequently opened have allowed for all their places to be awarded to Christians.

In April 2011, the then Chair of the Church’s Board of Education, The Rt Rev John Pritchard, said the Church’s schools should limit the proportion of pupils selected by faith to 10 per cent of their intake. Fresh national admissions guidance published by the Church in June that year failed to offer any clear advice that schools should limit the proportion of pupils admitted on religious grounds.

Over the last two and half years Church officials have consistently framed CofE schools as inclusive and "not faith schools for Christians but Christian schools for all". This is despite schools in only one in eight dioceses being advised not to select pupils by faith (any many schools in even these dioceses still religiously prioritising children) and one in four dioceses actively advising their schools to reserve places by faith. A November 2016 Populus opinion poll commissioned by Accord found Anglicans in Britain opposed state funded schools selecting pupils by faith by 69 per cent to 17 per cent (by a ratio of over 4 to 1).

Read Mixed Signals: The discrepancy between what the Church preaches and what it practises about religious selection at its state-funded schools here

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