Faith-based school selection

12/06/2013  -  10.14

Dr Mahmoud Emira

To ban or not to ban 'faith based' school selection?

Before I attempt to answer this controversial question, I’d like to re-phrase it into this instead: “Why do parents want to send their children to a ‘faith-based’ school?”

On the one hand, parents might think, among other reasons, that faith schools are outstanding or they might just like their children to know about a specific religion, even though they might/might not be practicing. If this is their choice, then it might not be fair to deprive them/their children of their right. We live in a free democratic multicultural society, where we tolerate and respect members of different backgrounds. This is one of the key principles of living in Britain today.

However, this ‘faith-based’ selection is likely to be unfair and might lead in the future to ‘ethnicity-based school selection’, which could be the worst form of discrimination. Instead of promoting inclusivity and equality, such selection strategy is likely to cause segregation among different groups in society.

On the other hand, teaching tolerance and respect to our children is a collective responsibility where the family, school and the wider society (e.g. the media) are involved in the process. To have schools where all pupils follow a particular religion might not necessarily instil racism and bigotry in these pupils. Therefore, parents’ concerns in this regard might be unfounded.

My conclusion: Going back to the original question, people have different preferences and lifestyles but there may be a need to ensure schools are inclusive and can accommodate the needs of all parents regardless of their religious background. Therefore, my answer would be to ban this admission strategy.

However, the fact that ‘faith-based’ schools are often over-subscribed is an indication of the popularity of these schools among parents, and that’s why there should be an unbiased admission criterion in place to ensure equal opportunities, e.g. oversubscribed schools ‘must allocate at least half of places to children without reference to faith’, as indicated by the government spokesman in this article.

Failing that, there might be other fairer selection strategies such as ‘lottery-based’ or ‘quota-based’.

In the ‘lottery-based’ strategy, which might be straightforward, parents and their children will be randomly selected before a place can be allocated in their preferred faith school regardless of the population within their local community.

The ‘quota-based’ selection is likely to take this into account (i.e. the religious and non-religious population in the community) and allocate places accordingly in a proportionate manner, but this might be more complicated!