UK faith schools to have fewer religious pupils
New Church of England schools are not likely to give priority to Anglican pupils, instead offering 100 per cent of admissions to students from all faiths and none.
Newly-appointed chief education officer Rev Nigel Genders told the Telegraph that this will allow the Church to better serve the "local community", and will go some way to address the shortage of available places in primary schools, which is a growing problem across the UK.
The Church is the biggest education provider in England with an estimated one million children currently attending a faith school, many of which are oversubscribed.
In the past, faith schools have traditionally favoured the allocation of places to students whose parents are regular church goers, and attendance registers are sometimes taken in churches within the catchment area of the most popular schools – leading to the coining of the phrase "get on your knees, avoid the fees".
However, Government guidelines bought into effect several years ago assert that only half of the places in faith-based free schools or academies can be reserved for religious pupils, and Genders has suggested that many new Church of England schools will not even offer any priority to a particular group.
"In practice, most of the new schools that the Church of England has provided over recent years have all been entirely open admissions policies so that they would serve their local community," he revealed in an interview with the Telegraph.
"They have been built for that particular purpose."
He continued, "We're now responding to pressure on pupil places and wanting to serve local areas with the high quality of education that our schools provide. It's no surprise that they will become more open in their admissions policies to enable them to do so."
With a climbing birth rate and increasing immigration, thousands of extra school places are needed to meet demand, and Genders says the Church is in a "very strong position" to do so.
He made sure, however, to underline that Church of England schools would remain "rooted in Christian heritage and the person of Jesus Christ".
"It is not just about the academic results, it is about them being formed with Christian character so children can play a full part in society; so they are rounded human beings, they are courageous, they are full of integrity, they are passionate about justice," he said.
In an interview with the Times last November, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby suggested that he was in favour of "a steady move away from faith-based entry tests," although a statement from Lambeth Palace later confirmed that the he was not advocating a change in policy, and remained in support of the ability for church schools to "set their own admissions criteria, including the criterion of faith".
In response to the Telegraph's latest report, the Church of England has confirmed that there has been no official change in its admission policy and that schools have always approached the issue individually in accordance with the governing body and Government guidelines.