Faith quotas Bill unlikely to change admissions

20th October 2006 at 01:00
* Authorities to decide whether to apply rule that insists 25 per cent of pupils come from other religions

* Proposal is dubbed 'nonsensical'

Government plans to force new state funded religious schools to take up to a quarter of their pupils from other faiths will make little difference to school admissions in practice.

Ministers claim the proposals will avoid Northern Ireland style segregation, but they have been howled down by faith groups. The majority of state faith schools will be unaffected as the amendment to the education Bill, which is expected to be voted through at the end of the month, only applies to new ones. And The TES has established that even where new faith schools are opened, the chances are that they will be largely unaffected.

It is up to local authorities to decide whether to apply the requirement to offer 25 per cent of places to pupils of other or no faith and at least one council serving a multi-cultural area has said it will not do so.

Ministers will be able to force them to, but Lord Adonis, the schools minister, said this would only happen where there were "well founded concerns" about the school or community.

More significantly, if the places were offered, the indications are that there would be little interest from other faith communities in taking them, particularly at non-Christian schools.

The Church of England has already unilaterally decided to make the 25 per cent offer. However, the majority of new faith schools are likely to be Muslim, following the Government's commitment to bring many of the 120 independent Islamic schools under state control.

Idris Mears, a member of the Muslim Council of Britain's education committee and former director of the Association of Muslim Schools, said he doubted whether people from other faiths would want their children to attend Islamic schools.

The view is confirmed by Al Hijraj school, a voluntary aided Muslim secondary in Birmingham which accepts non-Muslim pupils. A spokeswoman said the school had had "one or two" inquiries from non-Muslim families since becoming state funded four years ago, but never an application for a place.

Gatton primary in Wandsworth, south London, another state-funded Muslim school, has had "very few" applications from non-Muslim children, says the local council. A spokesman said the authority had "no plans" to impose a quota of non-Muslim pupils on such schools.

Greg Hall, the deputy head of Guru Nanak school, the country's only state-funded Sikh comprehensive, in Hillingdon, west London, said it was considering quotas of non-Sikh pupils. But he said it would be "nonsensical" to impose one as high as 25 per cent, as there was not enough demand. His school gets about six applications a year from non-Sikhs.

Jon Benjamin, the chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, also dubbed the proposal "nonsensical".

The Catholic Education Service for England and Wales described the proposal as "social engineering" and demanded it be left to set its own criteria.

On Wednesday Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, outlined how existing faith schools could do more to promote better community relations. He wanted to see teacher exchanges between religious schools so that pupils and teachers were exposed to different faiths. He also called for independent faith schools to justify their charitable status by doing more to work with non-faith schools in their areas.

full reports, 10-11

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