Opinion Former

Campaigners seek faith schools equality impact assessment from Government

Humanists UK has written to the Department for Education (DfE) requesting details of what, if any, equality impact assessment the DfE carried out before deciding to allow new fully segregated faith schools to open by the back door.

Following more than a year of campaigning by Humanists UK, the Government announced this month that it had decided not to go ahead with plans to scrap the 50% cap on religious selection at free schools. However, in an effort to appease the demands of a small group of religious lobbyists, it simultaneously announced that it would allow new 100% selective state faith schools to open outside of the free schools programme.

Humanists UK has now demanded to see details of the Government’s equality impact assessment (EIA), the process that public authorities carry out in order to demonstrate that a policy does not unfairly discriminate against a particular group of people. Humanists UK’s letter to the DfE, which has been sent pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, says:

‘In choosing to retain the 50% cap on religious selection at free schools, the Government has acknowledged that fully selective faith schools frustrate integration and entrench division. This is made clear by its decision not to require capped schools to implement the other integration measures set out in the green paper, the implication being that schools with more open admission arrangements are inherently better placed to promote integration than fully selective schools.

‘Given this acknowledgement, it was mystifying to see that new fully selective voluntary aided faith schools will be allowed to open outside of the free schools programme. Such schools will deny equal access to children on the basis of religion and, by proxy, their ethnic and socio-economic background too, just as much as fully selective free schools would.

‘The Government’s response to the Schools that work for everyone consultation explains that, unlike free schools, voluntary aided schools are required to pay for a fraction of their own capital costs, with the remaining capital and running costs provided by the state. If the implication of this is that this small contribution somehow justifies fully selective admissions policies, we do not see how that follows. It certainly doesn’t lessen the discrimination that local children will face if they do not meet the admissions criteria.

‘We would therefore like to ask what equality impact assessment was carried out by the Department, if any, in making this decision, and for the details of any assessment to be published in full.’
Last week, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt - chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group - challenged the Secretary of State for Education on this issue during oral questions in the House of Commons, asking how the Government plans to ensure ‘integration and community cohesion’ in fully selective VA schools.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘The Department for Education’s job is to promote the best interests of children, not to appease the unreasonable demands of religious lobbyists. It may think it can do both, which is presumably what led to the fudge of a policy that it announced earlier this month, but clearly it cannot. Faith-based admissions policies are, by definition, discriminatory, so we look forward to seeing what or whether an equality impact assessment was carried out and how it could possibly have led to this outcome.’

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