Friday 19 January 2018

A lurch towards more religious segregation in schools?

The appointment of Damian Hinds as Secretary of State for Education in the mid-January cabinet re-shuffle threatens further expansion of religious segregation in publicly funded schools. Plans to remove the 50% ceiling on religion-based admissions were put forward by the Government in a Green Paper in 2016, but were put on ice by the previous Secretary of  State. As an avowed advocate of selection on the basis of religion, Mr Hinds has, according to an 18 January report by the Secular Society, asked for the Government’s earlier proposal to be prioritised for further consideration.

Government ministers have repeatedly claimed that schools that select on the basis of religion achieve better academic results. However, as demonstrated by the independent Education Policy Institute in a December 2016 report, the reality is that selection on the basis of parental religion acts as a proxy for a form of socio-economic discrimination, while reducing social mobility. Once attainment figures are corrected for disadvantage, the performance of religion-based schools is shown to be broadly in line with the performance of schools which are not religion-based.

As the Secular Society argued in its recent report: “A proliferation of faith schools will impede the integration of religious minorities, damage social cohesion, increase levels of discrimination in state-funded schools, undermine children and young people’s religious freedoms and further undermine the ability of many parents to find a suitable school for their children”.

According to a 9 January report in the Guardian, Mr Hinds received a gift of over £5,000 from the Catholic Church in 2014 to fund an intern in Parliament, creating a potential conflict of interest if he pursues the lifting of the cap on selection according to religion.  He is one of a number of MPs with responsibilities relating to young people and education, who are listed in the Register of Members Interests as having received such donations in recent years.