Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Synod Extends Welcome to Critics of Faith School Policy: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Synod Extends Welcome to Critics of Faith School Policy: News

Article excerpt

CofE body invites debate amid warnings against sectarian 'ghettos'.

Critics of faith schools have long complained of skewed admissions policies that favour middle-class pupils, so it came as a major surprise last year when the Church of England appeared to agree that they had a point.

The Right Reverend John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, who chairs the CofE's national board of education, provoked a storm of controversy by saying that schools should stop collecting "nice Christians into safe places" and instead cut the number of places reserved for Anglicans.

That debate is now set to be reignited at the General Synod - the legislative body of the CofE - which, for the first time, will host a campaign organisation opposed to school places being determined by faith.

The invitation to the Accord group has been made by Synod member the Reverend Hugh Lee, who has warned that faith schools risk creating sectarian "ghettos". Speaking to TES ahead of next week's debate, Reverend Lee said that faith school advocates should learn lessons from segregation in Northern Ireland.

"It seems to me very important that faith schools should be open to different faiths, rather than closed and creating ghettos," he said. "School admissions can certainly be a problem. I would encourage people to look at Northern Ireland. That situation is now improved, but it is an example for others to be aware of. It is important that whoever is running a faith school is aware of the issue of segregation.

"Faith schools need to think very carefully about how open their admissions policies are and whether they are contributing to sectarianism and strife or integration and harmony."

When the Bishop of Oxford made his intervention in an interview with TES last year, he suggested that CofE schools limit the proportion of places reserved for Anglicans to just 10 per cent.

The Accord coalition - whose members include religious groups and teaching unions - does not object to the existence of faith schools, but is against them being allowed to select any pupils or staff based on religious observance.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chair of Accord and minister of Maidenhead Synagogue, said that he had met with the Bishop of Oxford to discuss the issue. The meeting is likely to foment distrust among some more traditional members of the clergy, who are opposed to the Bishop's desire for reform. …

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