Government move to ban civil society organisations from raising concerns about school admissions to be challenged in House of Lords
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have come out in opposition to the proposed ban on civil society organisations formally raising concerns about schools' admission arrangements. The Shadow Education Spokesperson in the House of Lords, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, became the latest prominent figure to question the Government’s move in a blog published today, describing it as ‘a clear case of shooting the messenger rather than addressing the problem.’ Lord Watson’s comments come ahead of an oral question on the issue which is being put to Schools Minister Lord Nash on Wednesday afternoon, and will provide an opportunity for a number of other peers to weigh-in on the Government’s proposal.
The ban, which has been proposed essentially in response to a report published by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) last year revealing that virtually all religious selective schools in England are breaking the law, has attracted significant criticism from both parliamentarians and the public in recent weeks, including Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Lord Storey, with much of the opposition expressed so far focussing on the negative consequences for parents that the ban is expected to have. In addition, there has also been strong criticism of the Government’s description of the BHA’s and FAC’s objections to school admission arrangements as ‘vexatious’, despite the fact that they were overwhelmingly (87%) upheld by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator and revealed widespread illegality, a fact which both Lord Nash and the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan have acknowledged.
The oral question is listed as concerning ‘Proposals to prevent some parents and organisations from objecting to violations of the School Admissions Code’, and is likely to be heard just after 3pm on Wednesday.
BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Pavan Dhaliwal said, ‘We’re glad that this issue is getting the attention it deserves in Parliament, not just in the form of Lord Watson’s oral question, but also in the form of the 50 parliamentary questions that have been tabled in both Houses so far, by MPs and peers from a range of different parties. Like us, they recognise that an opaque and unaccountable admissions system in which schools choose pupils rather than the other way round is fundamentally a broken one, and they know, as we do, that far from redressing this imbalance, the Government’s proposal will only serve to entrench it. The level of opposition we’re seeing is therefore unsurprising, and we will continue to urge the Government to reconsider so the right of parents and children to fair access at local schools can continue to be defended.’
For further comment or information, please contact BHA Faith Schools and Education Campaigner Jay Harman on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7324 3078.
Read Lord Watson’s blog on the Government’s proposed changes to the School Admissions Code, ‘Code philosophy’: http://www.labourlords.org.uk/code_philosophy
See the BHA’s previous news item ‘Department for Education acknowledges 87% of objections to school admissions labelled ‘vexatious’ by Education Secretary were upheld by adjudicator’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/02/26/department-for-education-acknowledges-87-of-objections-to-school-admissions-labelled-vexatious-by-education-secretary-were-upheld-by-adjudicator/
See the BHA’s previous news item ‘Parliamentarians and wider public denounce Government move to ban BHA from raising concerns about schools admissions’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/02/19/parliamentarians-and-wider-public-denounce-government-move-to-ban-bha-from-raising-concerns-about-school-admissions/
Read the BHA’s letter to the Secretary of State: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016-01-28-Letter-from-the-BHA.pdf
Read the Secretary of State’s response: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Letter-from-Nicky-Morgan-to-Andrew-Copson-19-02-2016.pdf
Read the Department for Education’s press release announcing the proposed ban: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/parents-to-get-greater-say-in-the-school-admissions-process
Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Government moves to ban organisations from exposing law-breaking schools unfairly restricting access to children and parents’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/01/25/government-moves-to-ban-organisations-from-exposing-law-breaking-schools-unfairly-restricting-access-to-children-and-parents/
Read the BHA’s comment piece in the Independent ‘Is Nicky Morgan on the side of children or faith organisations’: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/is-nicky-morgan-on-the-side-of-children-or-faith-organisations-a6837811.html
Read the BHA/FAC report ‘An Unholy mess: How virtually all religiously selective schools are breaking the law: https://humanism.org.uk/2015/10/01/an-unholy-mess-new-report-reveals-near-universal-noncompliance-with-school-admissions-code-among-state-faith-schools-in-england/
Read the FAC’s briefing on the report: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/anunholymess-briefing/
The Fair Admissions Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.
Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.