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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Church schools in 'inclusive' vow
C of E school classroom
The Church of England says its schools have always been inclusive
The Church of England has promised that all of its new schools will offer at least 25% of places to pupils from non-Christian families.

The chairman of the Church's board of education, the Rt Rev Kenneth Stevenson, makes the pledge in a letter to Education Secretary Alan Johnson.

The Catholic Church also said it would be more open about the proportion of non-faith groups within its schools.

Bishop Stevenson said other faith schools should not be made to do this.

In his letter Bishop Stevenson says: "They are themselves a sign of inclusion and their very existence promotes community cohesion, which would be further enhanced by the development of robust and effective educational links between schools of a different character."

Two aims

He said the Church was committed to providing schools which were Christian and, at the same time, inclusive.

Dr Stevenson, who is Bishop of Portsmouth, says in the letter that there is no opposition between the two aims.

"Part of a school's Christian commitment is to reach out, to include, not with the purpose of indoctrination but in order to offer education clearly based on Christian values to the wider community," he states.

The Church of England cites statistics showing that, of 22 of its recently opened secondary schools, most serve disadvantaged communities and have "inclusive" admissions policies.

Most give priority to local children or do not admit on the basis of faith.

Of the rest, only one has a proportion of places for local pupils as opposed to those who are practising Christians - allocating 33% of places to those of other faiths and on a local basis.

ENGLAND'S FAITH SCHOOLS
Church of England 4,646
Roman Catholic 2,041
Jewish 37
Muslim 8
Sikh 2

The pledge follows a 2001 report for the Home Office on England's race riots in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley.

This report on "community cohesion" called for schools dominated by one race or faith to offer at least a quarter of their places to pupils from other backgrounds.

About a third of all mainstream state schools in England have a religious ethos - the vast majority of these are from the Christian denominations.

The Church of England stresses that, while the pledge refers only to new schools, the commitment to inclusion is not new.

Dearing report

But one obstacle to inclusion, raised by a report by Lord Dearing in 2001, is the "patchy" provision of Church of England schools.

It provides one in four primary schools but only one in 20 secondary schools - many oversubscribed.

The Dearing report, commissioned by the Archbishops' Council, recommended that the Church of England should open 100 new secondary schools.

Since the report was published 33 Church of England secondary schools have opened or expanded, with definite plans for a further 21 schools.

Another 72 schools are in the early planning stages.

Bishop Stevenson said the commitment was that new Church of England schools should have at least 25% of places available to children with no requirement that they be of practising Christian families.

Uniting

However, the places would not be left empty if left unfilled by such children - making it a proportion rather than a quota.

Education Secretary Alan Johnson welcomed the pledge.

He said: "A good education is one of the best ways of building understanding of the many issues that unite us, as opposed to the few that divide."

However, the National Secular Society described the Church of England's announcement as "a cynical ploy aimed at misleading public opinion".

A spokesman said that if both Anglican and Roman Catholic churches were committed to community cohesion they would extend the policy to all of its current schools.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The Church of England's head of education



SEE ALSO
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Backdoor school selection curbed
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Schools warned over admissions
04 Nov 05 |  Education
Code 'won't translate into law'
24 Nov 05 |  Education

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