A North London Church of England school has been criticised by an independent schools inspector for refusing a place to a girl because her parents didn’t take part in church activities – something they were unable to do because they were taking care of another of their children who was disabled.
St Paul’s Church of England School in Mill Hill was also slated for its inadequate appeals procedures, which the inspector said were structured incorrectly and in such a way as to “dissuade” parents from appealing against decisions.
The inspector was also critical of the fact that the chairman of the school’s governors, Reverend Michael Bishop, was not only responsible for writing references for prospective parents but then judging them when they were considered for a place. The inspector said this was a clear conflict of interest. Rev Bishop has since been replaced as head of governors.
Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “The Church of England repeatedly assures us that they operate their privileged entry criteria fairly. This shows that often they don’t. It still shocks me that parents are forced to engage in church activities in order to get a vicar’s letter that will get them a place in a state-funded school. It is blatant religious discrimination that would not be permitted in any other context."
The new draft Schools Admissions Code, published today, allows religious schools to prioritise children on the basis of their own or parents’ religious activities, as laid out by the religious authority. At the same time, the Code prohibits schools from giving priority to children on the basis of any practical or financial support parents may give to the school or any associated organisation, such as the local church. It therefore remains unclear as to how exactly ‘religious activities’ are defined by religious authorities.
A consultation on the new Admissions Code was launched today by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove. The consultation will last 12 weeks.