Largest proposed Free School attempts to increase religious discrimination by circumventing faith-based admissions and employment laws
Becket Keys Church of England School in Brentwood, Essex, the largest Free School to have been pre-approved to open by the Department for Education, has been accused today of attempting to circumvent the 50% faith-based admissions requirement imposed by the Department for Education (DfE), and also of breaking the rules on religious requirements in employing teachers. The accusations come in correspondence from the British Humanist Association (BHA) to the DfE asking the DfE to pay closer attention to the behaviour of the school, which is due to open in September.
If oversubscribed, Becket Keys currently proposes to select half their pupils (75) with reference to faith, then select a further 43 pupils from two feeder schools which in turn select entirely with reference to faith, and 20 places from a feeder school which selects at least 10 pupils with reference to faith. Therefore, it is very conceivable that in some years some 85% of pupils at Becket Keys will be selected with reference to faith.
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘The Free Schools model Funding Agreement requires that “The Academy will adopt admission criteria that provide that, if oversubscribed, at least 50% of its places available each year will be allocated without reference to any faith-based admission criteria.” Selecting 50% on basis of faith and then 35% from a group that was in turn selected on basis of faith, is equivalent to selecting 85% on basis of faith, and must therefore surely break this 50% rule.’
In addition, in the Brentwood Gazette on 12 October, Andy Scott-Evans, one of the 2 junior school heads who organised the bid, is quoted as saying ‘For the staff, if it is a matter of choosing a good teacher who is a Christian or a fantastic teacher who is not we would go for the fantastic teacher. Ideally we would have a fantastic teacher who is a Christian.’
Mr Thompson continued, ‘European employment laws are clear that, where reference to religion or belief is made as an occupational requirement, it must at a minimum be legitimate, genuine and justified. In other words, either there is a genuine requirement for staff members to be Christians, or there isn’t – such requirements cannot be applied selectively in the manner Mr Scott-Evans proposes, after people have applied.
‘We have taken these points up with the Department for Education, and hope that they will pay closer attention to the behaviour of all Free Schools due to open this September and beyond.’
Becket Keys is to open on the site of Sawyers Hall College, a community school which is due to close this summer because of insufficient demand for places. A University Technical College and a Studio School, both inclusive, were also proposed to open on the vacated site, but both proposals were turned down by the DfE.
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.
Read the model funding agreement for Free Schools: http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/leadership/typesofschools/freeschools/a0074737/free-schools-model-funding-agreement
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools.
Becket Keys’ proposed admissions policy is at: http://www.becketkeys.org/Admissions%20policy%20October%202011%20V3.pdf
The feeder schools’ admissions policies are:
After 50% of pupils being admitted with reference to faith, pupils are admitted from these schools without reference to faith in strict proportions. However, as many of these schools in turn admit wholly or partly with reference to faith, the effect is that a further 35% of pupils are admitted due to their faith.
Read COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 2000/78/EC – establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2000:303:0016:0022:en:PDF
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.