Faith schools restrict rather than expand parental choice

Faith schools are highly controversial and rarely out of the headlines. The government nevertheless remains keen to enable more of them to be set up. This is largely justified on the basis that such schools create a ‘diversity of provision’ that offers greater opportunity for ‘parental choice’. The Huffington Post reports

New research published this week by the National Secular Society seriously undermines this claim. The Choice Delusion report highlights the ways in which faith schools actually restrict school choice for thousands of families who do not want a faith-based education for their children, or do not share the faith of a particular school in their area. The report reveals that almost three in ten families in England live in areas where most or all of the local primary schools are faith-based.

For most parents, the first preference is their nearest school. But what if that happens to be a faith school? When oversubscribed, schools in England designated with a religious character are often allowed to use faith-based oversubscription criteria to give higher priority in admissions to children of the faith. Unless you can get your local priest or vicar to confirm your regular attendance at church, you’re not getting in.

But in some parts of the country parents are left with little or no choice other than to send their child to a faith-based school. Thousands of families were assigned faith schools against their wishes in England in 2017 alone. As part of its case work the National Secular Society has heard from Christian parents allocated Sikh schools, atheist parents allocated church schools and even a Muslim parent allocated a place for her son in an Orthodox Jewish School. In some cases, appeals have been successful, but this isn’t always the case and some parents have resorted to opting-out of the state sector because of a lack of availability of non-faith-based schools.

The Government hasn’t estimated how many parents are in this situation and frankly, it doesn’t seem to care. Whilst religious freedom arguments are sometimes deployed to defend faith schools, the rights of non-believers seem to be entirely forgotten.

The Catholic Church’s insistence that the government gives it permission to turn away children from non-Catholic families demonstrates that its primary interest is turning pupils into practitioners of the Catholic faith. Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim faith schools have similar motivations.

Parents may like the idea of choosing the school they send their child to, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into support for faith schools. The research tells us that a school’s religious character is rarely an important decision criterion for parents. High-performing schools are very popular with parents, but faith schools aren’t. Seventy percent of parents say they would choose a school on the basis of its academic standard; 23% would choose on basis of ethical standards. Just 8% say they would choose on the basis of faith. Just a quarter of people in Britain who might have a school-age child say they would consider a faith school. Given the choice, two-thirds of Muslim parents say they wouldn’t want their children to go to a Muslim state school.

Read the full article Faith schools restrict rather than expand parental choice

Have you had experience of this? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: Faith Schools, Infant, Learning, Parenting, Primary, Religious Education, and Secondary.

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