Tuesday, October 03, 2006


In another fit of establishment condescension, the Church of England has put out an astonishingly disingenuous statement on church schools and their admissions policies. They seem to be counting on a small act of generosity detracting from a larger problem, and as usual will try to dismiss critics as 'bitter secularists'. But this is untrue and unfair. Faith schools have their religious critics too, and there are good theological (as well as sociological and educational) reasons for disliking the current mess.

The Church's stance remains wholly inadequate since it continues to use church-going as a way of assigning publicly-funded school places. This is not only wrong, it is also fundamentally un-Christian in principle, as far as I'm concerned.

The chair of the Church of England Board of Education, the Rt Rev Dr Kenneth Stevenson, Bishop of Portsmouth, has written to Education Secretary Alan Johnson to say that all new Church of England schools should have at least a quarter of admission places available to non-Christians but Parliament should not expect the same commitment from other faith Communities. But the heart of this policy remains discriminatory. It is nonsensical to claim that it promotes social cohesion and inclusivity, when a range of religious schools practice a variety of admissions policies with religious observance as a criterion.

The Church of England's latest announcement is simply a gesture towards social and educational inclusion in the face of an overall policy which is, at heart, designed to privilege church-goers over others in publicly funded schools. It is entirely inappropriate for Christians to seek to give themselves advantages of this kind. Self-interest stands in opposition to what the Christian Gospel is about. A truly "Christian school" would be one that seeks to be open to all and which pays particular attention to the needs of marginalized and poorer communities.

Remarkably, the C of E Board of Education does not even know how many of its schools actually operate discriminatory admissions policies.

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