No school should be allowed to select more than half of its pupils on faith grounds, according to an education manifesto launched today.
The move would bring all schools in line with the regulations governing free schools and has been put forward as a first step towards ending religious discrimination in school admissions altogether.
The proposal is contained in a manifesto unveiled by the Accord Coalition, which brings together faith and non-faith groups to promote inclusive education. Accord is urging the political parties to adopt the measures ahead of next year’s general election.
Around one-third of all state-funded schools in England are faith schools, two-thirds of which are Church of England schools, with most of the remainder Roman Catholic.
Exemptions from the 2010 Equality Act allow faith schools to give priority to applicants of the same religion, although free schools are restricted to selecting no more than half of pupils on faith grounds.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, organiser of the Accord Coalition, said the manifesto included practical steps to end the intrinsic discrimination of faith schools.
“Such discriminations are a religious affront and are incompatible with religious teachings about equality, openness and fairness,” he said. “The manifesto suggests practical steps to change the current system and achieve such aims.”
According to the manifesto, restricting faith schools to choosing half of their intake on religious grounds was an initial move “towards ending the anomaly by which state-funded schools are legally able to distinguish between children on religious grounds in their admissions procedure.”
It added: “This is not an ideal position but it does at least introduce an element of consistency, sends a message about direction of travel and eases the path towards the abolition of all religious discrimination in schools.”
The document also contains proposals to make it illegal for schools to refuse to employ somebody on the basis of their faith. “Not only is this morally objectionable, but it is educationally counter-productive, harming the schools’ educational standards and limiting pupils’ social horizons,” it said.
Other policies include restoring Ofsted’s duty to inspect schools’ work on community cohesion, adding religious education in the national curriculum to ensure pupils learn about all faiths and ending the requirement for schools to provide a daily act of collective worship.
The Church of England’s chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said: “The six points of the Accord coalition offer no answers for the pressing challenges in education today.
“As a society we face a major crisis over school places, which is squeezing low-income families out of the best schools. That is why the Church of England is working with local partners to find ways of expanding our provision and meeting the enormous demand for places, and ensure that young people from all backgrounds have access to a high quality education."
Rev Genders added that the Church is building networks for groups of rural schools to support each other and establishing partnerships with universities to ensure high quality training for teachers.
“Perhaps most importantly, there is a crisis of social justice in our society. That is why the Church of England is providing young people with an education which will not only prepare them to succeed in society, but empower them to transform it." he said.