Education experts accept that “faith schools” are cherry-picking pupils, but seem unable to do anything about it.
This was what Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, discovered at a recent conference at London’s City Hall called “Social Sorting and Education”. The main theme was about how children from many ethnic minorities and those with social disadvantage were catered for in London’s schools.
Professor Geoff Whitty, Director, Institute of Education, University of London was questioned by Keith about about the role of schools with a religious character (the technical name for “faith schools”). Keith pointed to the growing hard evidence of cherry-picking by “faith schools” made possible by their privileged selection criteria, and the huge disadvantage at which community schools were consequently placed relative to them. Keith had expected a torrent of disagreement from delegates, if not the chair, but there was none.
Two studies presented that day illustrated the problem quite clearly, but delegates – with the exception of groups such as the Campaign for State Education – just seemed to wearily accept that it was a fact of life over which they had no control. They are painfully aware that central Government encourages this inequality, and is delighted to attribute the “faith schools’” success to religious ethos, when everyone but them knows the success is unquestionably down to selection.
Another study showed the hugely disproportionate number of places in London secondary schools that were of a religious character, and yet still more faith schools are being opened.
Keith said: “I was even told by a delegate that a minister of education had personally telephoned councillors in a neighbouring borough to the minister’s home to encourage them to vote in favour of a faith school. It beggars belief that any minister would act in such a way, doesn’t it?”